Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) was a theology student and religion permeates all of Heidegger’s philosophy. His Being in Time is central to Existentialist thinking.
He is most concerned with “The Question of Being”. He distinguishes between Being and Beings. Philosophers have always worried about entities and what they are made of and how they relate to each other causally. But they haven’t asked “What is the ground of being that makes the appearance of entities to us even possible?”
Heidegger examines “the being through whom the question of being comes into question.” (That being is us.)
Ontology is the study of being, but it is also the study of the being through whom the question of being comes into question. Phenomenology is the study of our own subjectivity. With Heidegger, this takes on religious sensibilities. There is a sense of passivity. Under what condition can things disclose themselves.
Heidegger does not use words like experience, consciousness, or mind. But it’s difficult to discuss his philosophy in English without using these terms. The first experience is “Being there”. He calls this “Dasein”. This is a way of getting back to the basic, primordial experience and saying in what it consists. Our basic experience is a holistic unified experience of our being in the world.
We are ontological. We ask questions. In particular, we ask questions of being.
The Center piece of his philosophy is to reject the Cartesian tradition. We have to reject the distinction between being in the world and something else; between consciousness and the world outside of us; between the phenomenological world with its intentional objects and the possibility of the objects to which that refers. Dasein and the world are a unified phenomenon. To understand Dasein is to understand the world. To understand the world is to understand Dasein.
There can be no Dasein without the world. There can be no world without Dasein. Dasein is already being in the world and being in the world cannot be separated into components. Dasein blocks the sorts of questions like “Who am I?” What we think of as our identity is a false self-identity.
An uncomfortable fact about Heidegger is that he was part of the Nazi party and he never repudiated the Nazis even though he became disillusioned with them. He said it never achieved it’s potential greatness. It became too much like the other technological societies (America and Russia). Heidegger has brilliant ideas but a despicable past. Nietzsche said that who the philosopher is has a lot to do with what the philosophy is. Heidegger claimed that Being in Time was not an ethical work. But it’s impossible to read it without seeing that it had powerful ethical implications. Heidegger rejected this, perhaps thanks to an inability to come to grips with the implications his philosophy has.
What bothers Heidegger is the problem of alienation. He talks about feeling at home in the world. But the truth is that he did not feel at home in the world and that modern man does not feel at home. Mass consumerism and technology have made it impossible to feel at home.
To talk about knowledge is to enter a domain that, according to Heidegger, we have not understood at all. What philosophers tend to think of is the world as something to be known. But Heidegger says we are not first of all knowers or spectators. Our first of all experience of the world is engagement. To be engaged is to care. Caring is not to be confused with caring for others or about others and should not be confused with anxiety or worry.
Heidegger talks about the World as Equipment. It’s about knowing how, rather than knowing that. It’s not about observing as a spectator, but being engaged in tasks. Under what circumstances do we stop involving ourselves in tasks and start seeing the things as we use as things – as individual instruments or items? Pre-reflection is more important than reflection.
Reflection becomes important when something goes wrong. If you are hammering nails into a floorboard, to think about the hammer and the nails and the floorboard and yourself as separate components is debilitating. But if the head flies off the hammer, then it becomes important to work through what went wrong.
If we are engaged in what we are doing, we don’t notice what we are doing. We are concerned with getting the task done. Heidegger thinks peasants have the answer to the question of being that philosophers since Plato do not because peasants are actively engaged in their world. But this is to be contrasted with using the world as a resource – especially in terms of technology. Technology makes everything the same. Consumerism is something Heidegger despised. These things separate us from the world and from each other. Heidegger’s original flirtation with Nazis was to re-capture rural Germany even though they quickly became more concerned with the same things as what the Russians and Americans displayed.
Heidegger rejects Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am” because he says it leads to a split between mind and body. Descartes also said that self-knowledge is immediate and unmistakable. Descartes uses this as proof that there is at least one proposition which is self-evident and undoubtable. But according to Heidegger, we don’t know what our selves are and anything recognizing true recognition is a rare thing.
To be authentic is to be one’s own person. In contrast, there is inauthenticity which is not being one’s own self. Heidegger labels this “Das Man”. It means, “one does not do those things around here”. The Das Man Self is an anonymous, individual or reflective self. It is inauthentic. It is a social, comparative self. But it is an essential part of life.
When we talk about ourselves, we talk about ourself in relationship to a group. We give our identity in terms of our social roles. But our social roles aren’t us.
Heidegger also has the notion of being thrown into the world. What would it be like had we been born in another century? We didn’t choose when and where we would be born and we didn’t choose our parents. This compromises taking hold of yourself not within a vacuum, but within a very particular historical concept. Moreover, when one takes hold of oneself, one doesn’t break free of society. That would be the height of alienation (and technological societies). Rather, one takes a hold of oneself and appreciates ones traditions, ones history (historicity), and one embeds oneself back in ones culture and ones times. It’s easy to see how he saw national socialism and German culture in general not as a herd mentality he should escape but the opposite – something he should reinsert himself into. (This is very likely how he ended up with Nazi roots.)
Heidegger does not refer to time as clock time. We talk about living in the present but the truth is we never do. Whenever we think of ourselves, we always think of ourselves from our past and in terms of our future projects. We are creatures in time.
Inauthenticity or alienation? Is that the choice we have? Heidegger says that this isn’t the choice we have, there is a third alternative.
Heidegger understands existence, in the Kierkegaardian sense – human beings have the ability to appreciate who it is we are. Reflection in the sense of being ontological. Existences precedes essence. Within the context of existence, Dasein has possibilities. We always see our world in terms of possibilities. Existence is a sense of the future – that we have the capacity to make choices. Existence is a freedom to make choices based on what we want of the future. Our moods are what “tune us in” to the world.
Facticity – the facts that are true about us. We are thrown into the world into a particular culture, a particular history, etc. This gives rise to our historicity which is the idea that we are born into a particular historical situation and tradition. Once we achieve authenticity, we reinsert ourselves into our historicity and our traditions. Fallenness is a term that is strongly reminiscent of the fall in the Bible, but it refers to the fact that we fall back from a reflective, authentic position to something Heidegger calls “preontological”. What we do is stop asking questions for a while and we fall back into tasks. This is how we live most of our lives and it is a sort of inauthenticity, but nevertheless, it is part of human existence and should be respected as such.
Heidegger talks about authenticity in terms of three different contrasts: Understanding vs. Curiosity. Modern science is curiosity. Most people when they ask questions are being curious. But this is an inferior form of cognition. Understanding is superior to curiosity. Thinking vs. Calculation. Heidegger does not admire technological advancement because it involves calculative thinking. Real thinking is philosophical thinking. Speech vs. Chatter. There is talk that entertains us, but true speech is something very different. Most of us spend most of our time just chit chatting. But speech is much more profound.
Conscience is the constant reminder within us that we are not all that we would like to be; that we are not authentic. That we are just going along with the crowd and there is this quiet voice that reminds us we could be something more. Conscience gives rise to guilt. This is something built into our very existence – it is the constant reminder that we are not being all that we can be. It isn’t built for a transgressions or an omission, it comes by fact that we are human. It comes by virtue that we are ontological. We can’t help but ask questions about being and who we are. When we quit asking these questions (because we get comfortable in our job or in our marriage or in our habits), there is still a nagging conscience that there is something else.
To be authentic is to start to think about our neighborhood, marriage, job, etc. in a new way – taking hold of them and making them our own rather than simply being in a neighborhood, being in a marriage, being in a job, etc.
“Being Unto Death” is not a celebration of death, it is simply a recognition of death as a necessary fact about us. We need to live with death in mind. When you face death, what you ask yourself are some very basic questions about your life. It is death that individuates us. It is death that shakes us out of our Das Man self. When you face death, you face the sudden realization that you might not be there. When you die, you will cease to be a Dasein, the world will cease to exist for you. And therefore, for you, the world will cease to exist. It’s not the same thing as authenticity although it is one aspect of it, it is a spur that throws us out of our inauthenticity and fallen condition and forces us to see ourselves and our lives a single unity. This is when we start making resolutions of a profound sort.
Are we to be alienated as authentic? Or inauthentic and not living a full life? Once we become authentic, we can re-emerge ourselves into our historicity. (It’s not too difficult to see here an excuse for Heidegger’s Nazi affiliations.)