Friday, 15 March 2013

Does Heidegger have anything important to tell us about being human?

Does Heidegger have anything important to tell us about being human?

Many people when confronted with Heidegger’s Being and Time tend to overestimate the importance of its message.  Why? Jonathon Ree, for example, believes that the reason is that the question of the meaning of being springs to mind as something so ‘dull and familiar that we never notice that we are ignorant of what it means’[i].  This statement is reflected for instance in Ivan Strenski’s pessimistic article, Heidegger is No Hero, where he makes the claim: ‘despite my best efforts at finding the “bottom line” in his (Heidegger’s) thinking, I have never been able to get Heideggarians to tell me exactly why Heidegger is so terribly important’[ii].  This essay will attempt to prove the opposite that Heidegger has something important to tell us, i.e. rather than talking about nature or expression of being human, he focuses on the actual meaning.  The meaning of being human will be divided into two parts: a non-normative analysis of whether Heidegger has anything important to say about what it is to be a human being, and a normative discussion in terms of whether Heidegger has anything important to say about what it is to be properly human in terms of how one should live.  It will conclude by suggesting that the importance of Heidegger’s analysis of Being human in Being and Time, is found in his bipartite discussion of human existence as both an authentic and inauthentic Being.

What is it to be human for Heidegger?

What it is to be human is an interesting yet baffling question.  Still it is also a question that can be responded to in various ways.  Some might answer by suggesting that the question is primarily concerned with the issue of human nature.  But this brings about further concerns as to whether such a thing as human nature amounts to either our biological predispositions, or, on the other hand, the way we are nurtured into the world, for example by social conditioning etc.  Although there are no definite answers, some have taken a radical either-or approach by suggesting that either we are a product of our biology, or born as a blank slate so to speak.  On this interpretation our lives are formed and shape purely by factors such as parental upbringing.  A less radical suggestion is to say that what it is that makes us human fundamentally boils down to a complex relationship between how nature and nurture combine.  So in essence what it is to be human is impinged upon either an explanation of nature, nurture or a complex combination of the two.  All of which have up to now evaded human understanding.

Still, either approach to the nature-nurture question doesn’t seem to satisfy the idea that humans are capable of actually thinking or cognizing about their own way of being.  On this account what it is to be human must also impinge on some theory of mind.  The view that the mind is something that is unattached to the world goes back to Plato, however it was Descartes who formally made the distinction that the mind and body are separate entities.  On his interpretation the universe is filled with two different types of ‘substances’ - mind and bodies – which are mutually independent from each other.  On this substance dualist approach, what it is to be human for Descartes is the acknowledgement that our minds can exist without the body.  This would seem to imply that not only is the mind something that isn’t a physical part of this world, it also implies that the mind is something superior than the body.  Indeed although contemporary philosophers have rejected Descartes position of substance dualism, the question of what the nature of mind is, how it is connected to the body, and its functions are still heatedly debated and thus far inconclusive despite its paramount importance to the question of being human.

Heidegger’s thought on what it is to be human is different from the above concepts discussed.  He is not so much concerned with the traditional conceptions of mind and body or nature and nurture, but is instead concerned about our ‘being’ that is to say our actual existence, and how the world contributes to creating our essence.  Essence, for Heidegger, is an existential concept to denote that our being is something that is determined not solely by our biological predispositions or environment, though they are influential, but more so by our active engagement in the world.  Who and what we are is something that is never set in stone.  Our genes or strands of DNA although provide us with an ontical account of what being a human is, meaning that it provides us with a factual analysis of the human being.  But this is not the way Heidegger, or indeed people in general, see themselves as a human being.  To truly understand our being, an existential grasp of the phenomena of our own existence in the world is of paramount importance.  For Heidegger, our real essence lies in how we apply ourselves in the world.  Our being is constantly being shaped and re-hashed through our acts in the world.  In many ways we define ourselves, and throughout our lifespan we are likely to experience some minor or even major changes.  We are in a sense constantly in a state of becoming.  Indeed, this is primarily the reason why Heidegger says that our essence lies in our existence (BT 9: 67)[iii].  How we live in the world and engage it is hence how we develop the sense of who we are.  Some might radically take this to mean that our physiological makeup play no part in who or what we are.  But Heidegger here is not suggesting this at all.  Indeed, they are influential in developing certain characteristics, such as our height or hair colour; but these things in themselves do not actually make who or what we are.  We are more than just synapses firing, we are more than just a product of our genetic makeup, yet at the same time they can also influence our existence to a certain extent.  Therefore, if there is an answer to whether Heidegger has anything important to tell us about what it is to be human, then the answer essentially lies in Heidegger’s existential analysis of the way he envisages Dasein – human existence – as a being-in-the-world.

So a possible answer Heidegger could give to the question of what it is to be human, is one that presupposes biological predispositions and a theory of mind since they are pinnacle to Heidegger’s conception of being human – Dasein.  The literal meaning of the term is being-there, but depending on the context it can also refer to being-here.  The term is not original to Heidegger, Kant for example used Dasein to refer to the existence of all entities, whereas Heidegger on the other hand restricts it to that of the human being.  Why? Heidegger replies that ‘Dasein is purely an expression of our way[1] of being (BT 4: 13)[iv].  This means that as Dasein, we find that our way of being in the world is fundamentally different to that of any other entity in the sense that we are intrinsically aware of our own existence in the world.  Since our way of existing is different to other entities, so too is our essence.  Indeed in another respect, Dasein is distinct from other entities in the sense that we are the only entity for whom Being is a question.  Without Dasein, the question of Being cannot even be posed.  Heidegger contends that Dasein’s what[2] is precisely to be and nothing but to be[v].  This statement has two implications.  Firstly, there is the notion that ‘to be’ implies that whatever state of existence we find ourselves in the world, this knowledge must always predispose being.  We can’t just be in the world in an indeterminate way so to speak.  To be is always being so, in either one way or another.  Secondly, there is a temporal element of the notion to be.  As Dasein, we are able to ‘project’ our being into the future.  We are able to plan and envisage our existence at a  point that has yet to be materialized in reality.  For example, Dasein can envisage what type of house it wants to live in the future, or generally how it sees it life in the next few years.  This makes Dasein different in that it sees its own existence as something that is much more rich, dynamic, and at the same time something that openly concerns it.

For Heidegger, Dasein sees its existence in the world as something that is grounded in the way Dasein is in the world.  Accounts of the futility of human existence or doctrines concerning the nature of our being as something controlled by external factors, doesn’t satisfy Heidegger’s belief that Dasein must make a stand and live its life as much it can itself.  To fob off Dasein’s Being as something that does not come under its own control simply goes against what it means to be a human.  Heidegger wants to avoid all such interpretations in Being and Time because it is our duty to be ‘masters of our own house’.  By placing the starting point or our existence in the palm of Dasein’s hand, Heidegger develops an ontological account of Dasein that lies purely in its existence alone.  As Dasein, we don’t just live our life in some random way, neither do we live without any worries or concerns about itself nor about the world.  Such worries and concerns are inherently tied into the way we express meaning in this world.  Dasein simply wouldn’t do what it does if it did not have an element of care in itself.  Dasein’s existence, then, is imbued with care and this is of fundamental importance for Heidegger’s general account of both an ontological and existential interpretation of the meaning behind Dasein’s existence.

For Heidegger, care strikes him as the most important trait Dasein possesses, a trait that inadvertently establishes itself as the doorway into the heart of our ‘being’. But what exactly is care?  Heidegger tells us that care is the totality of the structural whole of Dasein’s constitution (BT:45 232)[vi].  To care is to be ahead-of-itself-already-in (the world).  Dasein is always thinking ahead of itself in the sense that it always looks at itself as a possibility for being something.  Dasein cares about what it makes of its life, Dasein cares about its future state of existence as well as its past achievements.  It is through the notion of care that Heidegger is able to establish how humans perceive their existence in the world in various ways.  In one way, Dasein cares in the sense that it resides in the world and can make choices that can influence its being – for example, finding a suitable job, deciding to go out for walks, or eating a delicious meal etc. are all matters that concern Dasein to a degree at least.  Yet at a deeper level of care, the idea that Dasein can come to an acute awareness that its existence is essentially finite and limited to a certain amount of time, can also produce a deeper worry for Dasein.  For Heidegger Dasein did not have the choice in coming into existence, but instead Dasein is thrown into the world.  Dasein is catapulted into existence and is forced to make the world his own through living out its remaining years. 

Through its life then, Dasein is always projecting up itself certain potentialities-for-Being something, for example I could be a doctor, or a teacher.  Yet at the same time whatever path of life I take, there will always be paths that I could have taken, there will always be decisions that I could have made but didn’t.  In which case in choosing to do one thing, I am leaving out a whole range of other possibilities left open.  I could always revert back to a different path or decision but even so I will always be a not yet something – there will always be a hole that begs the question.  ‘As long as Dasein is, there is in every case something still left outstanding, which Dasein can be and will be’ (BT:45 233)[vii].  Indeed, Heidegger’s inclusion of ‘will be’ in this statement has an air of optimism about it.  In this sense, it could be taken to mean that Dasein will always manage to find a way of conquering what is remaining in his Being.  Still, even if we become this ‘will be’ this still does not eradicate the ‘outstanding-ness’ of our being.  Indeed, one could argue that I could both be a doctor and a teacher, or even a doctor, teacher and weekend mechanic.  But Heidegger’s point is to show that whatever state of being I find myself in being, I can only occupy a single state at a particular time.  I might be able to do one thing and think about another, but that will only enforce the fact that there is something still left outstanding in my existence that needs fulfilling later on – if ever it will be.

Essentially as long as Dasein is alive then, Dasein never becomes whole, but only reaches this wholeness in death (BT47: 238)[viii].  Death completes the circle of Dasein’s life but for the most part Dasein ends in unfulfillment.  Dasein’s existence is impinged on the ontological anticipation that it will one day die, and so lives in the world as a form of care.  Although the day of our death is for the most part unknown to us, Heidegger uses death to argue that our essence must therefore be carefully worked out.  Life is short for Heidegger, and part death is the final say.  Hence how we organize and go about being human as a temporal Being-in-the-world is extremely important to Heidegger. 

Still, is Heidegger’s discussion of death, care and potentiality-for-being an important discussion about being human?  Some might argue that he is stating the obvious.  Of course we are all limited human beings, of course we are going to die, of course I my life is limited to what I am at this moment in time – so what?  Although such an interpretation is true to a certain extent, it misses the value of Heidegger’s message.  Heidegger is somewhat obsessed with our being and what we make of it.  Certainly it is true that one day we are all going to die, but this is all too easy to say and all too difficult to actually come to believe.  Heidegger really wants to hit home the fact that we are perishing and are constantly in a state of demise.  If death doesn’t get us today or tomorrow, it certainly will at some point in time.  In fact, the longer one is alive, the higher the likely hood of our death.  Death is always on the horizon so to speak, and Heidegger wants to enforce the fact that Dasein’s care is, or should, be based on this fact.  For how we perceive our death should enhance the value of our life.  Julius Seelye Bixler in his article, The Failure of Martin Heidegger, thinks that Heidegger’s discussion of death is seen as the ‘goal’ of life, as the ‘never-to-be-forgotten condition’, of our very existence[ix].  As a result Bixler believes that Heidegger’s talk of death produces more of a morbid effect on life rather that a stimulating one:

‘He discusses death in order to arouse us to our living responsibilities. But we feel that in his case the idea has gotten out of hand and has created an atmosphere not
stimulating but morbid[x]

But this is not of Heidegger’s opinion.  For Heidegger, Dasein as being-toward-death has the ability to shape one’s life providing that Dasein can face its death without cowering away from it in fear.  Heidegger believes that we can authentically face our death by letting it stir a certain amount of anxiety into us.  If we can face it head on, then we can make a stand on our life and be more determined to live it accordingly.  It is not a ‘goal’ per se, as Bixler believes it to be.  Dasein doesn’t live with the idea that death is the goal set by life.  Indeed, if Heidegger contends that for the most part our life ends in unfulfillment, how can this goal ever be achieved?

Being-in-the-world crystalizes Heidegger’s idea that Dasein dwells inside the world.  To be in the world is to reside in it.  It is the stage into which Dasein can project itself and shape its life.  It provides Dasein with all the possibilities to project its potentiality-for-being, while at the same time Dasein can experience and come to understand the world and its entities it has to offer.  It is the place where interaction takes place, where Dasein’s can meet other Dasein’s, where Dasein’s life is lived from the moment of conception to the moment of death.  Heidegger makes the distinction that Dasein is a being in the world rather than just being alongside it, or in other words an entity that is with the world.  Dasein is in the world immersing itself with it, and constantly engaging it in a way that shapes its being, where as other entities such as tables and chairs are just alongside the world in a non-cognizant way.  So Dasein’s Being in the world and its essence are not things that reside inside Dasein, neither are they things at all for that matter, but are instead some way or other “outside” of us in terms of relational events for us to grasp.  But since we are plunged into the world for a limited amount of time, Heidegger believes that Dasein is capable of existing in either of two modes of existence: an inauthentic or authentic mode, and this is what is primarily unique about Heidegger’s conception of the being of Dasein.

Inauthenticity is primarily associated with falling into everydayness.  To live in the everyday is to live in what is socially perceived as the normal average everyday type of lifestyle.  An example is that of living a typical nine to five day, five days a week since this is what most people tend to do.  Living in the everyday is seen as conforming to how others are living out their lives.  For example, Dasein commutes to work just like the others, has lunch at a certain time just like the others, and then journeys back home just like the others.  By being-with-one-another Heidegger tells us, Dasein’s self has been taken away from it by the Others and replaced with the Self of the Others (BT:27 127)[xi].  In effect, Dasein’s self in the everydayness of being-in-the-world isn’t truly itself, but is the self of the-they, or the they-self (das Man).  Das Man literally translates as the One.  The term is used to represent social norms and values to which people obey and adhere to.  So by going along with the-they, Dasein is adhering to how ‘One’ should be.  Thus, Heidegger is saying that what it is to be a human in an everyday state of being-in-the-world, is to essentially be inauthentic because it is going along with how the they see and do things without any regard for how Dasein personally sees things for itself.  Dasein is driven around by the-they, constantly falling into how the-they perceive things and do things, Dasein doesn’t stand its ground, Dasein doesn’t stop and think about what is going on, but instead lives accordingly to the dictatorial world of the they (BT27: 127)[xii].

By living in the world of the everyday, Heidegger conceptualizes Dasein as something that is different to the traditional ideas of what it is to be a human.  Since Heidegger’s primary concern is Dasein’s existence in the world, the way Dasein is in the world is of paramount importance to him.  For Heidegger, everyday Dasein interprets things that are obscured by publicness.  The world appears to be exactly how the-they see it, and not as how Dasein sees it itself.  Just as how actors play out certain roles on a stage, Dasein acts out his participation in the world under the veil of the-they.  The world is like a stage to Dasein – its objects are seen as things that are purely for the utilization and as a means to an end.  Talk with others is primarily cheap and unintelligible, conversations on topics such as the weather and what one does for a living for example, are spoken not because Dasein itself is interested in these things, but because these topics are seen as socially desirable ways of communicating.  Since death produces immense fear in Dasein, it is a topic seen as morbid and is as a result reluctantly talked about, and hence is fobbed off.  The inauthentic Dasein knows that it will occur, but always puts it off as an event that will happen at a later date (BT:51, 253)[xiii].  Likewise, people tend to flee in the face of death, they conceal it rather than confront it and acknowledge it as something powerful yet see it as an inconvenience.  The human predicament is brushed aside, and life continues to flourish in an inauthentic way.  Dasein as an everyday being-in-the-world and being-toward-death is constantly falling in a mode of being that does not truly reflect its own being.

Indeed, the picture painted by Heidegger is one that appears to portray society and others in it under a negative light.  This was in fact one of the criticisms mounted by one of his students Hans Gadamer[xiv].  He believed that society can also contribute in ways that can help Dasein go about its life.  For example, others can help Dasein gain knowledge in certain subjects Dasein itself would be incapable of coming to know on its own.  With the aid of books and other tools produced by others, there is a sense in which Dasein’s personal development is aided by the-they.  Michael Inwood on the other hand thinks that Dasein’s tendency to fall in to the-they ‘going wrong’[xv].  Yet, Heidegger would contend that even though proximally and for the most part we exist in an inauthentic mode of existence, he is far from saying that the-they is something negative in which we should seek detachment from.  Heidegger readily admits that Dasein’s everyday environment is one that it feels closest to, and thus one that primarily establishes Dasein’s being for the majority of its life.  If Gadamer read Being and Time a little closer, he would have found that Heidegger actually agrees with him.  The-they is not something that is solely negative, something which Dasein should seek to detach from, but is on the contrary hence a fundamental part of Dasein’s positive constitution (BT:27 129)[xvi].  For Heidegger, everydayness of being-in-the-world provides the foundation to which he believes Dasein can build its being as an authentic potentiality-for-Being-a-whole. Heidegger is fully aware that life gets cut short by death, and that it ends in unfulfillment for the most part.  Since Dasein is a potentiality-for-being, there will always be something left outstanding in Dasein’s life.  What Heidegger is therefore saying is that an inauthentic Dasein represents only one mode of being-in-the-world, and that this mode isn’t necessarily good or bad, right or wrong, but yet is an incomplete mode of being since it doesn’t fulfill Dasein’s lust for wholeness and totality which Heidegger believes is crucial to the meaning behind being human.

Why is Heidegger’s analysis of inauthenticity an important aspect of being human?  Some might argue that Heidegger is once again stating the obvious, that our existence carries with it an element of just going along with what others say and do, that it doesn’t involve thinking about our situation and existence as a whole.  But what Heidegger really wants to tell us is that humans have this unique ability to come to an understanding that for the most part they are existing in a mode that is unsatisfying, that is in a mode that doesn’t really represent their own way of being.  For Dasein, being inauthentic opens up possibilities for existing in another mode of being-in-the-world.  The normal everyday way of life might not necessarily be a negative thing for Heidegger, but it tends to cast one’s mind into thinking that there is a more real, or authentic way for Dasein to exist.  Heidegger’s talk of inauthenticity is essentially one that prepares the way forward for this mode of Being - authenticity.

What is it to be properly human for Heidegger?

Dasein as an authentic being in the world expresses Heidegger’s idea that it is capable of existing in a different mindset.  Indeed, the authentic Dasein still lives and engages the world in an everyday sense of things, but it does so in a way in which it is mentally detached from it at the same time.  On this interpretation, what it is to be human is to come to an explicit awareness that there appears to be a more proper, or genuine way of being in the everyday world that is true to Dasein itself.  The definition of authenticity in Being and Time is difficult to grasp, mainly because Heidegger never really defines the term, and, moreover, he tends to talk about many different features of authenticity.  For example, one can be authentic-toward-death, an authentic potentiality-for-Being, or an authentic whole.  Despite these difficulties, Heidegger’s chosen word for ‘authentic’ is eigentlich.  A German word that is generally understood as meaning ‘real’.  However the prefix eigen translates as meaning ‘own’.  So being authentic seems to incorporate a sense of being real to one’s own self.  According to Michael Inwood, it is to be one’s own master; it is to be true to one’s self, to be one’s own person, to do one’s own thing’[xvii].  However, doing one’s own thing just because that is what you believe reflects being true to yourself, is not an excuse for employing an any means to an end approach to achieving this.  It shouldn’t be seen as a somewhat stubborn ‘do what you want because that’s what I want’ approach to life, but it is rather more concerned with the notion of becoming ‘resolute’ to one’s sense of choices of being as a potentiality-for-being.  So for example since Dasein is constantly in a state of becoming, to be resolute means to be more firm or definitive about one’s state of being in the world.  One should not just do things just because that’s what society deem appropriate for example, but instead one should be more resolute in the decision making process, to take a stand on one’s life and come to choose in a way that reflects one’s own true understanding of things.  Indeed, one might argue that this still entails a somewhat ‘as long as I am being true to myself I am entitled to be resolute in any way possible’ approach. 

Yet, this interpretation fails to consider Heidegger’s analysis of how one becomes resolute.  Dasein doesn’t just choose to be resolute, neither does Dasein necessarily attain resoluteness by ignorantly putting itself first as the object of satisfaction; instead becoming resolute is for Dasein to tune into the call of conscious.  It is the call that urges us out of our uncanny mode of being in the world of the everyday.  It is a silent call that carries no content; a call that ‘comes from me yet from beyond me’ (BT57: 276)[xviii]; a call in which we cannot prepare nor plan for.  Heidegger believes that this somewhat paradoxical call is said to come from our mode of anxiety over our death.  At the root of our being lies a nothing, a nothing that is temporarily filled as we live out our lives through the choices and actions we take.  The call is said to reveal this nothingness to which we are impinged upon.  This nothingness represents at the root core of Dasein’s being, the-basis of a nullity (BT58: 283)[xix], or in a word being Guilty! The use of the exclamation mark by Heidegger is repeatedly used throughout Being and Time, and provides us with a sense that in no matter what we decide to through life, we are only a ‘something’ in the making, a something because we are inherently a ‘nothing’.  The call then brings forth an authentic awareness that not only is our time on earth limited, but furthermore our being on earth is no matter what we do impinged upon a nothing in which strikes us with angst.  Although an inauthentic Dasein is concerned with the everyday world, an authentic Dasein on the other hand comes to appreciate its nullity and death as a no-longer-being-in-the-world.  An authentic Dasein seriously considers its morality and therefore sees its own life as something that will end in incompleteness and ultimately prematurely. 

So in becoming more resolute one must come to an inner realization that despite all the choices open to Dasein, if we can take a stand on our being-toward-death, our lives will be transformed[xx].  Transformed in the sense that it puts Dasein in a position to live its life in a way that reflects being ultimately true to Dasein’s own, while inhabiting a world alongside others.  Whereas Kierkegaard regarded that one can become a true individual in relation to God, Heidegger seems to take a nihilistic approach, by replacing the notion of God with death.  Heidegger also seems to believe that it is precisely how we relate to death - coming to terms with it that provides the groundwork to being an authentic individual.  Thus by acknowledging our finite nature, by coming to a clear sense that we are thrown into the world for a specific time, only then can Dasein become more resolute about its life, only then can Dasein come to live more authentically – that is to say according to being true to one’s own being.

Is Heidegger therefore suggesting that being properly human means that one should always strive to be true to one’s own self?  Not necessarily.  Indeed this notion of being one’s own also raises some important ethical inquiries regarding how one ought to live.  But simply put, Heidegger is not concerned with any form of normative ethics in Being and Time that dictates how one ought to live.  He is instead concerned about human existence and attempts to analyze it by painting an existential picture of the way we humans happen to find ourselves thrown into the world, and for him we usually find ourselves in either of two modes of existence – the inauthentic mundane mode of the everyday, and the more authentic richer and fuller sense of participating in the world that reflects being true to one’s self.  For Heidegger Dasein as a potentiality-for-Being is free[3] to be in either of these two modes of existence (BT45: 275)[xxi].  Free in the sense that we are not chained into being stuck into one mode of being (inauthentic) while trying to pursue a more ‘better’ way of being (authenticity).  Dasein has the ability to live in either of these two modes, and one mode is certainly no better than the other. 

Heidegger also highlights a third ‘undifferentiated’ way of being-in-the-world.  A way of being that seems to lie between an inauthentic way of being and an authentic way of being.  Unfortunately however, Heidegger does not provide us with any examples of what this way of being might entail, so one is left with the idea that it is a somewhat ‘neutral’ mode of being.  Still, the point to bear in mind is that Heidegger allows human beings to be free in any of these two (or three) modes of being-in-the-world.  The authentic mode of being might reflect a sense in which Dasein is being true to itself, but this should no way be seen as to how Dasein should properly be a human being.  Likewise, Heidegger claims that even the view of the inauthenticity of Dasein as signifying a way of being that is somewhat lower and insignificant is a mistake (BT9: 43)[xxii].  However, Charles Guignon speaks of authenticity as a way of life that is higher than that of average everydayness[xxiii].  But on this account Guignon is  implying that average everydayness is something lower, a mode of life that appears uninteresting, and one that can be transcended.  Heidegger would argue, however, that everydayness should not be viewed under such an undesirable light.  Indeed, being authentic might be reflected in our mental capacity a belief that we are being truer or more genuine to ourselves by not conforming to the-they, but in no way should this attitude be seen as something that is necessary higher or even defined as being the proper attitude to partake in.  In many ways, being authentic requires one to be, or at least to have knowledge of being inauthentic.  It is after all, as Heidegger points out, our concrete form of living (BT50: 296)[xxiv].  We cannot help but live in the world of the everyday, we cannot seem to help ourselves by going along with others at time.  Everyday provides Dasein with the essential groundwork for a potentiality-for-being-authentic.  But whether one becomes authentic is another matter.  What is certain however is that Heidegger does not force the issue upon us.  For him the option for being authentic is there and when one becomes authentic it will come in a moment of vision that is born out from our concrete everyday existence in the world. 

Still, on this topic concerning Dasein’s ‘concrete’ state of existence, some have gone on to point out, most notably Joan Stambaugh, that there lies a deep contradiction in Heidegger’s account of priority between authenticity and inauthenticity[xxv].  As we have seen in the above passage, everydayness seems to be the foundation from which one can to leap into a mode of being authentic.  Indeed Heidegger seems to support this claim in a further passage where he stipulates that: “Authentic Being-one’s-self takes the form of an existentiell modification of the-they…” (BT:53, 267)[xxvi], but then later Heidegger appears to change tone and claim the contrary where he sees the-they being an existentiell modification of the Authentic self (BT:64, 317)[xxvii].  As a result of this statement, Heidegger goes on to say that inauthenticity is actually based on the possibility of authenticity (BT52: 259)[xxviii].  So on the one hand Heidegger seems to be saying that being inauthentic is our default state of being that brings about an authentic self, while on the other hand he seems to be saying the opposite: that being inauthentic is based on authenticity.  Hence the apparent contradiction.

But is it an outright contradiction?  Indeed, the issue seems to impinge on the notion of what our default existential way of being-in-the-world is.  Either the everyday world grounds our existence or being an authentic self does.  However, there is a general tendency to view Dasein as an individual that is separate from everyone else.  And as long as we assume this, the more prone we are to agreeing with this apparent inconsistency, because the idea of being an authentic self appears to us as something completely subjective, something completely personal.  But for Heidegger, Dasein is not an entirely separate being from the-they.  The-they is an inherent part of Dasein as much as Dasein is an inherent part of the they.  All possibilities of Dasein’s Being is defined and “given” to Dasein, so to speak, by the-they in the first place.  Dasein cannot hammer a nail without the supply of hammers, nails and other tools for use – certainly these tools must come from others.  Likewise, the environments Dasein works, lives, and breathes in are all laid out in advance by the-they, for the-they.  The fact that Dasein sees itself as an independent being doing a job is somewhat illusive since anyone can fill Dasein’s role.  So on this line of interpretation, any notion of transcending everydayness and the-they is impossible.  Our mode of living, be it authentic or inauthentic, can never be disengaged from the public since it is the public that provides us with a sphere in which we live in.  Our current lives are not only shaped by the-they in our everyday life, but Heidegger also argues that it is also influence by history and tradition.  Heidegger acknowledges that much of what and who we are lies in our primordial heritage.  Thanks to certain historic events, ideas, thoughts, actions and the behaviour of our ancestors throughout time, our world has become the world we find ourselves in.  Yet, at the same time, Dasein as a contemporary being-in-the-world is a product of a long line of Dasein’s who had existed before.  Dasein as Dasein currently is, then, can only exist because of its past, and thus Dasein must carry the burden of this past – an accumulation of heritage, tradition and values, thoughts and ideas, rules, laws and biological inheritance - into its future.  Although Dasein is in charge of the way it thinks and does things, its history is extremely influential.  The Heideggerian idea that Dasein is connected to its past is reminiscent of Jung’s conception of archetypal man.  For Jung, man is not a completely independent being; he carries with him important primordial ideas, archetypes, that are representative of our ancestral mentality in the part of man’s mind Jung called the collective unconscious.  Likewise with Heidegger, we find that Dasein carries the-they of the past along with it.  What this means is that the world Dasein finds itself in is effectively a social world that is shared amongst all Dasein.  All Dasein are subject to the same influences of history as all current Dasein’s are.  Dasein, as an independent being, is effectively the same as any other Dasein in the world.  Dasein is subject to the same emotions, the same rules, and the same behaviours.  Dasein is effectively dual natured in the sense that it is both the-they and an authentic self, who has the capability of being one’s own.  To become one’s own is to be able to ‘see’ this, to be able to see that we are all in this together.  So, even by becoming resolute in life we can never fully brake away from the chains of the-they:

In resoluteness the issue for Dasein is its ownmost potentiality-for-Being, which, as something thrown, can project itself only upon definite factical possibilities.  Resolution does not withdraw itself from ‘actuality’, but discovers first what is factically possible; and it does so by seizing upon it in whatever way is possible for it as its ownmost potentiality-for-Being in the “they”[4] (BT: 60, 299)[xxix]

Dasein as an authentic resolute being is thus able to become authentic because it is as much the the-they as any other Dasein is.  For Heidegger, being authentic does not refer to the content of our actions or thoughts associated with being an individual; rather, it is more of a style of living that is a by-product of living amongst other people (the-they).  But the question now proposed is what type of style?  Neither is it one that is ‘higher’ or ‘better’ than the style of the everyday – that is to say normal average everyday living – nor is it, as Michael Zimmerman contends in his book Eclipse of the self, a solely subjective idea of how one should live[xxx], for this line of interpretation fails to recognize the importance of the-they and neglects Heidegger’s thought on how influential our history and heritage is, or can be, in our lives.  Being authentic is, then, a style of living a coherent life within the capsule of the society or culture we find ourselves born into.  It is a form of awakening, instigated by our demise, that triggers our consciousness to calling us into an alternative mode of being that appears individualistic, yet is solely encapsulated, influenced by, and grounded in our publicness and history.  In some senses then Heidegger is highlighting the human predicament involving the conflict between living accordingly to how one wants to live, and how one happens to find themselves in living amongst society.  An authentic Dasein is able to appreciate this conflict, by coming to an inner sense that although one can make personal decisions and choices throughout its life, this does not entail that Dasein is separate or independent from others.  More so, in becoming more true to one sense of self, Dasein temporarily ceases to be in the-they.

So what Heidegger appears to be saying is that there is a deeper meaning of being a human being.  Our existence is not shaped purely by our own subjectivity or individuality; Dasein is the-they in as much as it is also an authentic self. Hence in this way of seeing things, there is no contradiction in the sense of priority between being an authentic self and the-they, since authenticity and inauthenticity are compliments to each other.  Indeed, Dasein has the capability to think and act contrary to the way others might think.  Dasein might even be able conceive of things in ways that appear unique to the social and cultural background in which Dasein is born and raised into.  But Dasein’s existence as a social being is inherently both inauthentic and authentic, individual and communal.  Being true to one’s self by being resolute can only be achieved because Dasein is the-they as it also is a potentiality for being an authentic individual. 

But still, Heidegger doesn’t provide us with any firm answers as to what a resolute or coherent life actually entails.  There is still this question of relativity – one might live a coherent life as a farmer while another might be more coherent as a banker.  On the other hand, becoming resolute might be a daunting task for some people – especially those who are unsure about what path to take in life.  Resoluteness in the face of death might also have negative consequences.  Indeed, Heidegger says that one must be anxious toward their death but not necessarily fear it.  Yet, there appears to be a fine line between anxiety and fear, and there is always the possibility that being anxious over our death stirs a sense of fear to some degree.  But is Heidegger correct to use death as the cornerstone to becoming an authentic self?  Indeed, the idea that death brings about an end to Dasein’s life once and for all should make one’s stomach churn.  But Heidegger seems to think that we can appreciate our existence as a potentiality-for-being only through coming to a real sense of awareness of our own demise and eventual death.  But this seems to be very much one-sided.  Why, for example, can I not come to take a stand on life by experiencing the death of others? Particularly those who were close to me?  If a loved one had finally succumb to a terminal illness after many years of pain and suffering, can this not have a detrimental effect on the way I see my life?  Even being witness to atrocities such as famine can become a significant life changing event.  Indeed, this latter example is perhaps most famously represented in the case of Siddhartha Gautama, or as he is most commonly known nowadays as the Buddha, or the enlightened one.  By venturing outside into the ‘real’ world from the confines of his lush aristocratic lifestyle for the first time, he came to a strong inner realization that life is full of suffering through his experiences of sickness, old age and death:

specifically, he encountered the four men prophesied; each of who brought home the hitherto unknown reality of suffering through life and death.  After seeing a terribly sick and crippled man, followed by an old and withered man, and finally the rotting body of a dead man, Gautama was struck by the fact that sickness, old age, and death were the natural processes of every person and that all the wealth and comfort of his father’s home was useless in avoiding this.[xxxi]

Whether this event actually occurred or not is open to debate, but what is important here though is the actual moral behind the story.  Through the process of experiencing other people’s demise and suffering, Siddhartha was able to come to strong sense of concern for his life.  It was these experiences which lifted him out of his current richly lifestyle and into a more aesthetic, yet resolute way of being, that truly reflected his thoughts and ideas.  Indeed, what is important here is that we don’t interpret his behaviour as a way of being that is something higher or better than the way of life in which he found himself in living previously – namely, in riches.  In Heideggerian terms then, we can interpret Siddhartha’s behaviour as receiving the call of conscious out of his uncanny mode of life, and into a more authentic way of being that reflects being true to himself.  Yet Siddhartha received the call of conscious through his experiences of others, not through any idea or thought over his death.[5] 

Indeed, Siddhartha’s way of being as a result of these experiences might reflect a style of life that appears extreme to the majority of people living in the world today.  Still, it is important to stress again that this way of being, though might reflect being true to those who choose to adopt it, doesn’t represent a proper way of Being.  So long as Dasein is resolute in life, so long as Dasein can take a stand on his life and decide to do things with the utmost conviction that represents being true to itself, then Heidegger, I am lead to believe, would interpret this as being authentic.

Yet in saying all this, despite Heidegger’s contention that being inauthentic is a fundamental part of our existence, he would probably stress that being overly reliant and indulgent in our everyday way of being would be unhealthy.  At the time of writing Being and Time in 1927, the roaring twenties were at its highest peak – economic prosperity brought about technological changes to society – with mass production of automobiles, telephones and motion pictures.  The ‘celebrity’ culture that has engrossed present day media and television screens across the country were also saturated in 1920’s culture as well.  In many ways, Heidegger was ahead of his time.  His critique of modern technology in 1954, as tools that are rendering human existence ‘passive’, perhaps echoes Heidegger’s doctrine of inauthenticity in Being and Time.  There is no sense of care in what one does – technology takes over our lives and makes us reliant on it, limiting our place in the world as beings that no longer need to think.  In seeing the world today – with the advent of the Internet as a way some people spend their entire working, and social lives on, technological advancements in advertising and media psychology – Heidegger would no longer feel that it is a human world.  No longer is society as a whole exercising their potential for being authentic, but are instead thrown into this lazy, inauthentic, way of being reliant on machines as we adopt a way of living through inputs and outputs, profits and loss, and means to an end without the need for thinking – that is until the call of conscious beckons…
In conclusion being human for Heidegger is impinged upon how we relate to our own death.  Death brings out of our being an anxiety of which ‘to be’ is draped in concern.  What it is to be a human in this sense for Heidegger is one that is hinged upon ‘care’.  We cannot not help care about our being-in-the-world since our time is limited.  As a result of death, and faced with the forever growing urge for wholeness, our being, which is one hinged on uncertainty and nothingness, is determined in either an inauthentic way or authentic way that is spread throughout time.  However, neither way of being is a proper way of being for Heidegger.  One is free to be in either mode.  Perhaps we like to think that we are an independent Being-in-the-world, but for Heidegger this is a misconception.  We are connected to each other; we are a product of a long line of human being’s.  We are both the-they and a Self.  In this respect we are somewhat dual natured in the sense that who and what we are is identical to our own being and the being of other people, for we all share the same basic existential dilemmas.  Yet at the same time we experience the inner conflict between being one’s self and being a part of society.  As a result, the importance of Heidegger’s message is not to be found in a ‘bottom line’ as Strenski assumes; rather it is found in Heidegger’s project, that is his journey, through Dasein’s Being as both an inauthentic and authentic potentiality-for-Being.

© 2011 Roberto Nacci All Rights Reserved

References and footnotes

[1] My Italics.
[2] My emphasis
[3] My Italics.
[4] My emphasis
[5]I have chosen this story because I think it reflects the power of Heidegger’s message in being resolute.  Indeed, although it has religious connotations attached to it, authenticity in Being and Time is not to be viewed as a mode of life that is necessarily religious.

[i] Ree, Jonathan., Heidegger, (London: Clays ltd., 1998), p. 4
[ii] Strenski, Ivan, Heidegger is no Hero, Christian Century, May 19, 1982., p. 598
[iii] Heidegger, Martin, Being and Time, translated by Macquarrie, J & Robinson, E., London: Blackwell Publishing (1962) p. 67
[iv] ibid. p. 67
[v] Heidegger, MartinHistory of the concept of time, Indiana: Indiana University Press (1992)  p. 110
[vi] Heidegger, op.cit, p.275
[vii] Ibid. p. 276
[viii] Ibid. p. 281
[ix] Julius Seelye Bixler, The Failure of Martin Heidegger, p. 16 on mac
[x] ibid. p. 137
[xi] Heidegger, op.cit., p. 164
[xii] Ibid. p. 164
[xiii] Ibid. p. 297
[xiv] A century in Philosophy:  Hans-Georg Gadamer in conversation with Riccardo Dottori (New York: Continuum, 2004). p. 22
[xv] Inwood, Michael., Heidegger, Oxford: Oxford University Press (1997)., p. 45
[xvi] Heidegger, op.cit. p. 167
[xvii] Inwood, op.cit, p. 21
[xviii] Heidegger, op.cit, p. 320
[xix] ibid. p.329
[xx] Guignon, Charles, C.G., (2006) Authenticity, moral values and psychotherapy, Charles Guignon (Ed). The Cambridge companion to Heidegger (p. 229), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
[xxi] Heidegger, op.cit. p. 275
[xxii] ibid. p.68
[xxiii] Guignon, Charles, op.cit, p. 228
[xxiv] Heidegger, op.cit. p. 296
[xxv] Stambaugh, Joan, An Inquiry into Authenticity and Inauthenticity in Being and Time, Research in Phenomenology 7 (1977): pp. 153-61.
[xxvi] Heidegger, op.cit, p. 311
[xxvii] ibid. p. 365
[xxviii] ibid. p. 303
[xxix] Ibid. p. 346
[xxx] Zimmerman, Michael., Eclipse of the self:  The Development of Heidegger’s Concept of Authenticity (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1981), p.199
[xxxi] Moreman, Christopher M., Beyond the Threshold: Afterlife beliefs and Experiences in World Religions, Rowman & Littlefield Publishes, Inc., (2010) pp. 117-118

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