Heidegger: Authenticity Lives In Death

I am sure we have all encountered someone who is convinced that omens speak in secret by sending messages through numbers [22:22 on a digital clock is an apparent premonition] or that the day one is born has some celestial significance that it can predict future events. There are those who associate human qualities to animals – their cat represents a woman – or even worse that there is some prophetic significance when a crow squawks and other forms of eclectic gobbledegook that these illusory concepts and highly imaginative impressions verify the depth of the human capacity to be self-deceptive.

The sophistication of these regrettably tolerated superstitions amongst many other forms of entertainment – all encapsulated by globalisation and capitalist marketing – has become so stylishly refined that its persuasive techniques used to influence people to distance themselves from their own personhood is barely recognisable. In fact, though people are blindly following in masses, they ingeniously consider themselves to be an ‘individual’ and unique.

Phenomenology attempts to understand consciousness and takes perceptions seriously and whilst historical insofar as its approach is descriptive, the person or individual is something concrete in a world where everything is interconnected through time and space. The mind is not isolated; every mental act is directed outwardly to the world and toward something or what is referred to as intentionality[1], and the first person experience or the way that we see and perceive the world plays a critical role in understanding the fundamental structure of consciousness and our shared social history.

Many various problems in phenomenology are raised such as our awareness of death and an end we are unable to conceptualise since existence is not fixed, or further still existential themes such as whether we are radically free and that existence precedes essence, but I am particularly interested in authenticity, whether we are capable of separating subject from object – that is ourselves or our consciousness from the preconditioned structure of a shared social history – to begin articulating a discourse independently and authentically.

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Heidegger questioned what is ‘being’ Sein and he believed that people are living unauthentically; our understanding of the exterior world and ourselves may appear deceptively close to us but the actuality is that an authentic consciousness of ourselves and of our perceptions is incredibly distant from our reach. The primary focus is on intention and I do not want to ascertain our relationship with objects such as the magnificent and incredibly comfortable armchair I recently purchased for my bedroom but rather a descriptive analysis of human nature and of being itself; Dasein or the very experiences of a person as the way or direction toward understanding Sein or ‘being’ itself and our existence.

According to Heidegger, humanity contains a paradoxical schism of being both free and enslaved. We are geworfenheit[2] or thrown into the world, the facticity of human existence such as our family or our genetic makeup is not a choice but a given and something we have no control over. That is, while we are geworfenheit into this world and have no control over the initial and permanent conditions set for us – thus determined – there is another feature to consciousness that allows us to transcend this determinism, the faculty to be consciously free. He separates dasein into several temporal modes; the past or facticity, the present or forfeiture and the future or existentiality.[3]

Our existence or ‘being’ in the present utilises the world as an instrument that unlocks this capacity to be conscious where we can control or dominate our environment, since the world of objects and things is vibrant, active and constant in its motivation and movement. However, humanity becomes inauthentic to their true nature when they are unable to successfully separate themselves and thus forfeit their nature by becoming subordinate to the world. They themselves absorb the same qualities of the objects of the world that they become an object or a thing. “Humans feel they are subjects and all other things are their objects… [l]imiting our perceptions to such distinctions causes us to become blind to Being and forfeit our chance to become Dasein and nurture beings into unconcealment.”[4]

“But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

People have become slaves to the tools of the world that were supposed to be used as instruments to facilitate our capacity to freely distinguish between the real and the non-real. Heidegger refers to this as das man or an inauthentic person who has conformed to the morality as dictated by an inauthentic world and thus escaped his own conscience and the emergent free will to commit the ‘original sin’ [Adam eating the apple because he followed the likes of Eve rather than independently choosing or understanding the difference between right and wrong]. We stop questioning and conform to the masses, losing our selfhood to enable the possession of what we desire.

Heidegger would agree that those who dedicate themselves to the question of their own being and to live a life studying themselves will be enabled with the faculty to live an authentic life and his final temporal ecstases, namely that to be authentic, the ‘future’ or existentiality is the frame of mind that has evolved beyond what objects do.

This ‘supreme possibility’[8] begins when we reflect on the nature of our existence through death. The premise is that our freedom produces a subjective anxiety since we become aware of ourselves and our separateness – please note that when I personally say separateness, it is not the Cartesian ‘separate’ but rather the experience of our capacity to dominate and control our environment and therefore to become conscious of our free will – and it is at that point that the individual reaches a choice between embracing this angst-laden freedom or to conform to the masses.

This ‘mood’ of angst or dread is an emotional anxiety caused by the realisation that one is drawing away from everything that they assumed was real and where their sense of significance becomes thoroughly unfamiliar or unheimlich. Fear in the material world is usually directed to something in particular, however this angst produces a feeling directed to something that the person is not aware of and thus an express encounter with ‘nothingness’ or that very emptiness that we feel being a genuine individual and having real freedom. To overcome this is only possible when we confront our own death or the finitude of our existence and by acknowledging our individual death, we realise our individuality.

By confronting our own death, we become conscious of our individuality and our independence and overcome this very angst since the awareness of death – the ‘white horse’ – is not necessarily confronting the violence of death, but rather the death of this subjective and elusive fear. Since this inner anxiety is the causal factor that encourages humanity to submit or conform, eliminating the anxiety and in turn the fear solidifies the subjective harmony to enable a person to begin living authentically and to be motivated by a moral consciousness. To attain moral consciousness is the only way to correctly understand love.

As the masses are motivated by sex and appearances, money or social position, one must transcend the material world and choose a partner that they admire for the qualities that they possess and in doing so will share in the same agenda of perfecting Harmony.

 

[1]Hubert L. Dreyfus, Mark A. Wrathall, A Companion to Phenomenology and Existentialism, John Wiley & Sons (2011) 73
[2] Peter Eli Gordon, Continental Divide, Harvard University Press (2010) 33
[3] Paul Roubiczek, Existentialism For and Against, CUP Archive (2009) 134
[4] Christopher A. Sims, Tech Anxiety: Artificial Intelligence and Ontological Awakening in Four Science Fiction Novels, McFarland (2013) 31
[5] Plato, The Symposium
[6] Gregory Vlastos, Platonic Studies, Princeton University Press (1973) 20
[7] David A. Ross, The Poetics of Philosophy [A Reading of Plato], Cambridge Scholars Publishing (2008) 40
[8] Michel Haar, Heidegger and the Essence of Man, SUNY Press (1993) 12