This Philosophy Is Organic, Even Spiritual

Working Castalia

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Martin Heidegger

May 1977

I was happy to be a kitchen cleaner. I worked 6:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., and attended a class on Cassirer after work. My class was good, but we weren’t really studying mythology—the title of the class. Instead, three days a week, we studied Cassirer’s investigations into the meaning and origin of mythology. I guess the short answer here, concerning Cassirer’s message, was that somehow the creation of mythology helped us to better understand the “real world.” In fact, according to Cassirer, even though myth didn’t begin with much of a connection to the real world, without it, science probably wouldn’t exist today. Science, like myth, depends on constructs that make reality visible. Cassirer’s take on mythology was that its creation (along with art and language) helped develop the metal skills that eventually would lead to scientific thinking. I’m not “a believer” in this guy’s philosophy yet. (The class was half over when I started.) All I can say for sure right now is that I have never read anything like it before. I guess that’s a good sign.

CMU hired a new person to teach Existentialism. As soon as I finished sitting in on Dr. Gill’s class I made arrangements to do an independent study on Martin Heidegger with Dr. Ausbaugh. Heidegger was the same guy another one of my professors (now long departed from CMU) called “the most important philosopher of our time.” What follows is a sample of my directed study with Dr. Ausbaugh. Heidegger was difficult, so I was happy with my B grade. From a personal standpoint, I found reading Heidegger much more rewarding than reading Sartre.

Martin Heidegger

“For manifestly you have long been aware of what you mean when you use the expression “being.” We, however, who used to think we understood it, have now become perplexed.” –so begins the book Being And Time. Heidegger goes on to tell us that we have lost sight of the meaning of being, and uncovering that meaning is what he tries to do in his book. His investigation starts with immediate experience, which he calls Dasein. Dasein gets translated as “being there,” and second, as “understanding.” Dasein represents “being” with a capital B, but that’s only after it achieves authenticity, after it realizes its own Being-in-the-world.

Dasein runs deep for Heidegger, but it is discovered in what Heidegger calls the They part of itself. In whatever particular Dasein is there, so is the world in its thrownness. The subject, for Heidegger, can no longer be described as worldless entity ala Descartes’ cogito ergo sum; rather, it becomes “a knowing Being-in-the-world.” Because Being-in-the-world knows only through some particular Dasein, whatever gets known is never enough. Dasein, always desperate for more, experiences what is in the world in the most desolate sense. Heidegger describes this desolate sense as falling through the “here and yonder of the They.” Dasein continues to fall until it encounters turbulence, but before I describe turbulence, I need to describe Dasein’s other characteristics, the characteristics that comprise Dasein as Being-in-the-world.

Heidegger tells us, “The structure of that to which Dasein assigns itself is what makes up the world. The worldhood of the world is thus the comporting of Dasein to its possibilities which I myself am.” He then goes on to explain that we discover things in the world ready-to-hand for their use-value, and they, in turn, are incorporated into Dasein’s possibilities as an assignment of a something in-order-to. Being present-at-hand, the other way we discover things in the world, is tied up with being-ready-to-hand because it comes into view only in the relation of a “with which” that obstructs the “something-in-order-to” of the ready-to-hand, in other words, an obstacle interferes with the use value of a thing. Heidegger describes this present-to-hand awareness as a disturbance that reveals itself through conspicuousness (broken equipment), absence (as something necessary before it can become an in-order-to), and obstinacy of obstacles (as something that gets in the way of an in-order-to preventing it from becoming an in-order-to). When being-ready-to-hand is not sufficient, when Dasein’s goals become blocked, the pure presence-at-hand steps in to exhibit itself. Thus, Dasein’s circumspective concern lights up the worldly character of entities present-at-hand and ready-to-hand, but, in addition to being with these entities, Dasein is also being there with others, discourse (communication and understanding), and state of mind.

By making Dasein’s being with others a given, Heidegger avoids solipsistic arguments, arguments that deny the possibility of knowing the other. Dasein exists through its communication with others. Dasein existentially encounters others as being for, without, or against, and is with others in its solicitude and considerateness. Thus, for Heidegger, discoursing becomes just another one of Dasein’s (Being-in-the-world’s) equiprimordial structures. Understanding one’s Being-in-the-world (depth of meaning) depends on how far one’s own Dasein has understood itself at the time. Depth of meaning is made possible because Dasein exists–ontologically–as both an “issue for itself,” and as a whole, and, according to Heidegger, the significance of Dasein-the ontological whole of Dasein-must be understood within the light of authenticity.

Dasein lights up the worldhood of the world in understanding, state of mind, being-with-others, and falling (thrownness). There is another way, though, one where understanding, state of mind, being-with-others, and falling light up not just the world of our everydayness, but rather our ownmost being possible.

For the most part, concern–our concerns, originate in what Heidegger calls inauthentic Dasein. People exist in thrownness and are none the worse for it. Indeed, most people are happy in throwness, but for those who need or want more, the possibility of existing apart from thrownness starts when that person becomes aware of thrownness. Setting a goal and attaining it is not the way one goes about existing apart from thrownness. Rather, this possibility is first enc
ountered as an oddity, an extreme, and finally gets understood only after the experience of an intensely felt aloneness—hence the turbulence.

In authenticity, when Dasein comes back to its own most having been, it becomes free from all externality. But, in order to succeed in this, Dasein must partake in a relationship where there is no further involvement. In everydayness, Dasein goes about its business unaware of that kind of relationship. In inauthenticity Dasein temporalizes temporality; that leaves Dasein with its past and future, but never with itself. Desiring wealth, power, fame, lust–worldly desires as such, Dasein always involves itself further, but when Dasein honestly faces the possibility of its own death, only then does it encounter a relationship with no further involvement, only then does it encounter the one possibility that cannot be outstripped by any other Dasein. In everydayness, Dasein does not choose to recognize this not to be out stripped possibility of itself. Instead, it passes over that possibility as an unfortunate calamity of life–people die. Occasionally, though, the thought of one’s death does get experienced with anxiety, but the cause of that anxiety is always left unrecognized (if I knew what I was anxious about I wouldn’t be anxious). If, however, one lingers in anxiety’s uncanniness, worldly meaning starts to fall away, and the sound of Heidegger’s “call of conscience” starts to be heard.

When anxiety slips between Dasein’s many faces the “call of conscience,” however faint, can be heard. If Dasein listens carefully, then the discourse of the “They” fades into the background and the “call” summons Dasein to its non-relational, not to be outstripped anticipation of death. Resolute Dasein, by answering the call, moves within one moment of existing authentically, but that moment, however small, is still formidable enough to block Dasein from holding on to the truth of existence in authenticity. “Being-towards-death,” says Heidegger, “is the process of Dasein coming back to its ownmost primordial having been as Being-in-the-world.” Coming back to its ownmost having been is not the problem. Staying there is.

The way we exist temporality in everydayness is the time of inauthentic Dasein, but the more one communicates with the call of conscience, the less one speaks, and the less one speaks, the more reticence runs through state of mind, understanding, and being-with-others. In “the moment of vision” a totally reticent Dasein is brought back before its concern in the rapture that precedes all possibilities, in the rapture that only Being-in-the-world can produce. In a manner of speaking, in the “moment of vision” an enabled Dasein “treads water” above inauthenticity and thrownness for the sake of its own authenticity and resoluteness.

Well that’s about it for Heidegger. You can agree him or not agree; either way he leaves you with something to “chew on.” Heidegger’s philosophy, for me, seems organic, even spiritual. Unlike Sartre, Heidegger at least leaves the possibility open for a pure, positive, Being. With the concepts of present-at-hand and ready-to-hand, Heidegger’s approach to Being is much earthier than Sartre’s comparable concepts of being in-itself and being for-itself. For the most part, by limiting his analysis to being-for-itself, Sartre turns the idea of a pure, positive, Being into its opposite—Being’s nothingness.

I have to admit, though, if it weren’t for the time I spent with Sartre’s philosophy, I probably wouldn’t have got much from Heidegger’s Being And Time. It was almost as if Sartre looked at Heidegger’s work and said, “Let’s cut to the chase. Dasein is a mental case, so lets get rid of him!” He then squeezed everything out of Being And Time that didn’t pertain specifically to conscious belief and came up with Being And Nothingness. Sartre secularized Heidegger’s work; he stripped Being-in-the-world of its meaningful content, and put in its place his machine-like idea of being-for-itself. If it weren’t for Heidegger, Sartre would not have had anything to write about. In Sartre and Heidegger’s respective notions of freedom that dependence is made very clear.

In both philosophies, freedom is referred to as a kind of disclosure, but for Sartre, that disclosure is the result of the negation of being. Dasein, by futureally making present, affirms rather than negates. In Heidegger, we are free for something, while in Sartre we are condemned to not be something. Ultimately, for Heidegger, we become totally free in Dasein’s resoluteness, but there is a strange twist here because Being-in-the-world is already chosen. Thrown Dasein is free to choose among its many possibilities, but–what gets chosen, how things are chosen, and why things are chosen– limits Dasein’s freedom. When Dasein understands Being-in-the-world as already chosen, it becomes free not to choose, and by not choosing, everything gets chosen. Freedom, for Sartre, on the other hand, replaces Heidegger’s “being free for authenticity” with pure negation. Sartre’s freedom becomes nihilation–being’s nothingness. It separates our past from our present as two distinct realities, forcing us to be free every instant. Being free, where every moment is separated by nothingness, leaves us, according to Sartre, anguished. Anguish then, for Sartre, becomes the thread that runs through freedom.

Does that sound familiar? It should, because without the state of mind of anguish, (plus a few other equiprimordial requirements) Dasein could not become free for Being-in-the-world. The difference between Sartre and Heidegger here is that, for Sartre, the consequence of being free for mere belief is a cause for anguish; while in Heidegger, anguish becomes the cause for the “call of conscience,” which in turn, calls us back to our own most potential being—Being-in-the-world. Put in slightly different terms, in Heidegger, temporality, riding the cusp of care, makes possible the fullest expression of Being-in-the-world, while, for Sartre, nothingness, as the condition of Being-for-itself, tortures forth the past, present, and future as a nihilating surpassing of my very being—being-what-is-not-while-not-being-what-is. No wonder I found Sartre so depressing!


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