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So Says Heidegger June 23, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, Ethics, ethics of care, Philosophy.
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I think Heidegger is the most important philosopher of the 20th Century, largely because of one simple insight that has much to say about the fate of humanity. Simon Critchley (in the Guardian UK) has a clear description of Heidegger’s basic thesis:

What Heidegger seeks to destroy in particular is a certain picture of the relation between human beings and the world that is widespread in modern philosophy and whose source is Descartes (indeed Descartes is the philosopher who stands most accused in Being and Time). Roughly and readily, this is the idea that there are two sorts of substances in the world: thinking things like us and extended things, like tables, chairs and indeed the entire fabric of space and time.

The relation between thinking things and extended things is one of knowledge and the philosophical and indeed scientific task consists in ensuring that what a later tradition called “subject” might have access to a world of objects. This is what we might call the epistemological construal of the relation between human beings and the world, where epistemology means “theory of knowledge”. Heidegger does not deny the importance of knowledge, he simply denies its primacy. Prior to this dualistic picture of the relation between human beings and the world lies a deeper unity that he tries to capture in the formula “Dasein is being-in-the-world”. What might that mean?

If the human being is really being-in-the-world, then this entails that the world itself is part of the fundamental constitution of what it means to be human. That is to say, I am not a free-floating self or ego facing a world of objects that stands over against me. Rather, for Heidegger, I am my world. The world is part and parcel of my being, of the fabric of my existence. We might capture the sense of Heidegger’s thought here by thinking of Dasein not as a subject distinct from a world of objects, but as an experience of openedness where my being and that of the world are not distinguished for the most part. I am completely fascinated and absorbed by my world, not cut off from it in some sort of “mind” or what Heidegger calls “the cabinet of consciousness”.

It is a bit risky to draw ethical and political generalizations from metaphysical claims. But the excessive individualism of Western society does seem to have a conceptual affinity with the idea of subject inherently cut off from its world.

If the Cartesian picture is right then our connection to the world is contingent, optional, and always in question, and we can opt out of that connection if we wish. If the Heideggarian picture is right, then we cannot conceive of ourselves without a world, and to tarnish or destroy it is to tarnish or destroy ourselves.

Which picture lends itself more readily to caring for our world?


book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

or Visit the Website: www.revivingliberalism.com



1. Huan - June 24, 2009

Perhaps if we replace the word world with reality, Heidegger’s point would not change yet the apparent ethical implications would diminish. It seems that one can not and typically do not seek to destroy reality (imaginative fiction aside), for he seeks to alter it, akin to altering the self in the case of Heidegger I guess?

2. Dwight Furrow - June 25, 2009

But Heidegger means “world” not “reality”. For Heidegger, to be in touch with reality is to be in the midst of a world of meaningful objects related to our activities. Subtracting the ethical implications would cancel the meaningfulness of that world. There is no awareness of reality independentlly of those meanings.

3. Huan - June 27, 2009

Ah I was under the impression that Heidegger’s philosophy wasn’t humanist or moralist in any sense, that being in the world was simply a phenomenological look at the self. He also suggested something about the cultures that men are born into being something that holds them back in a sense from their authentic self. This certainly could prompt some type of contempt for the objects surrounding our activities couldn’t it? (As well as for our current state of being, being unable to live authentically, whatever that means. )

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