Sunday, March 7, 2010

(First) Preliminary-Hermeneutic Presentation on Heidegger (April 2009)

This preliminary hermeneutic will be an attempt to gain clarity, and a more concise understanding of paragraph one of page 163 of our text of Being and Time. What Heidegger offers us here is the problem and dilemma of empathy, and its association with Dasein and Being-with-one-another. He says that “the special hermeneutic of empathy will have to show how Being-with-one-another and Dasein’s knowing of itself are led astray and obstructed by the various possibilities of Being which Dasein itself possesses so that a genuine ‘understanding’ gets suppressed and Dasein takes refuge in substitutes.” This is one of many of Heidegger’s calls for authenticity. In better understanding the subtle expressions and instances of empathy we may come to a better understanding as to why and how it is that we mask ourselves with so much conviction towards others and even to our own eyes. However, the question is then: why empathy as the bridge to reach this goal of understanding?

In the previous paragraph he wrote that “only on the basis of Being-with does ‘empathy’ become possible: it gets its motivation from the unsociability of the dominant modes of Being-with.” That is, empathy can only show its kind smile, in the muck and swamp of human disingenuousness and callousness, which is human interaction with subjects for the most part. Especially when others are treated as mere “subjects,” or “numerals,” as Heidegger puts it. One could easily get the idea that perhaps all this talk of “Others” is a direct precursor to Sartre’s famous, dark words in No Exit: “Hell is other people.” But I digress. The point is that to suddenly feel empathy is to allow one’s Being-with to be a vulnerable state and openness towards others. It is also a break and relaxation from the frivolous expending of Dasein’s energy on Being-with-one-another as something other than oneself, and in convincing oneself that this inauthentic display and phoniness is actually the real self – the real Being of one’s self.

In coming to know why empathy is suddenly felt, we may come to know what the instances are to bring about this species of feeling, and why, for the most part, we have a sense of selfish apathy towards others to the point where we have to fog our constant inward glance, so that we see a person other than the one we actually are. For the actual image of ourselves could very well be a revolting sight to our very Dasein if it stood there bare, clad in nothing but clarity. He states that “the possibility of understanding the stranger correctly presupposes such a hermeneutic as its positive existential condition.” Meaning, the legitimate and honest-eyed taking of this task is also a will-to-authenticity and embrace of the Being-with and Dasein-with of another. In this way, a positive, genuine Being-with-one-another can be achieved, and in the process, our actual Being can possibly be realized.

All this coupled with his further claim that “so far as Dasein is at all, it has Being-with-one-another as its kind of Being” reminds me a great deal of the arguments for existentialism, ethics and freedom laid forth by Simone De Beauvoir in The Ethics of Ambiguity, that isolation of any kind is counter to freedom and is in fact a form of slavery. We need others to feel and truly experience our freedom. In the ebb and flow of our reactions between each other - in the gifts, benevolence and echoes of truth we grant each other - we are truly free. “To will oneself free is also to will others free,” she said. Our very presence grants people the ability to choose how to manoeuvre and exist around us. Without others and objects there is no choice to be made and, therefore, no actual liberty of movement and reaction. We cannot act on our freedom if there is nothing to express it for and fulfill it with. She explains that being imprisoned is the worst kind of punishment because one merely exists, and cannot contribute to an outside world. The prisoner lives only as a “for-itself.”

And so with Heidegger, an “‘inconsiderate’ Being-with ‘reckons’ with the Others without seriously ‘counting on them’, or without even wanting to ‘have anything to do’ with them.” Yet, as he warns in the following paragraph, “One’s own Dasein, like the Dasein-with of Others, is encountered proximally and for the most part in terms of the with-world with which we are environmentally concerned.” And so, in a life without a concern for the world or the people around us, or even a life in complete isolation, for that matter, we offer our Dasein no assistance whatsoever in knowing, finding or understanding our essence, our Being. The Being of our Dasein, therefore, becomes the sham and facade of a base, shallow, inauthentic existence.

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