Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Heidegger on Dasein and authenticity

To: Paul M.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Heidegger on Dasein and authenticity
Date: 18th August 2011 13:38

Dear Paul,

Thank you for your email of 1 August, with your third essay towards the Associate Award, entitled, 'Heidegger, Dasein and the Quest for Authentic Being-in-the-World.'

This is a first-rate summary exposition of Heidegger's notion of Dasein, Being-towards-death and Authenticity. The clarity and concision shows that you have spent a lot of time drafting this piece.

Of course, I have to assume that these are all your own words. I realize this should go without saying. However (to parrot Smiley in 'Smiley's People') I've reached an age (60) when I can ask such things. If you have inadvertently copied phrases from any books you have been reading, you should be aware that your portfolio, once accepted, will be archived permanently on the Pathways site.

There was one statement which a reader would identify as a howler, where you say, 'Death provides us with an existential awareness regarding the possibility of not-being and its proposition; the impossibility of one's possibility.'

The formula, 'impossibility of possibility' is generally associated with Emmanuel Levinas's view of death, embodying his critique of Heidegger's account of death as the 'possibility of impossibility'. I personally don't like these formulae or catch-phrases as they tend to stand proxy for serious thinking. However, the upshot is that you can't attribute 'impossibility of possibility' to Heidegger, even if there is a sense in which this might be true. That's just not what this phrase has been understood to mean.

For Heidegger, grasping death as something other than merely 'something bad that might happen in the future' or a mere 'misfortune' that we are aware of happening to other people, is realizing what death means as an absolute end and limit to my possibilities of action. Hence, 'the possibility of impossibility'. He could also have said, 'the necessity of impossibility', which would have made the same point, or, perhaps, the 'necessary possibility of impossibility'. Levinas is making a point against Heidegger; which I will leave you to investigate for yourself.

I don't have much else to say. The main criticism of the essay as a whole is that you have contented yourself with exposition, which, clear though it may be leaves the reader wondering whether you have any criticisms to make of Heidegger, see any problems, are aware of any alternative or competing views (such as those of Levinas). What you have written s the sort of thing one might find in an encyclopaedia article. In an essay, you are generally expected to raise problems, grapple with something, and not simply take a back seat (as it were) and act as a conduit for a particular philosopher's views.

Even if you agree fully with Heidegger (which would not be impossible) you should consider objections that a critic might make, and attempt to respond to those objections; or at least consider misunderstandings that a reader might fall into, and attempt to correct those misunderstandings.

As exposition, it is also noteworthy that this is restricted to a particular stage in Heidegger's thinking ('Being and Time'). You hint at one point at Heidegger's criticism of technological thinking, which develops out of the failure to come to grips with the primordial nature of Dasein. Contemporary materialism and naturalism are arguably the legacy of Cartesian dualism, lending support to the idea that the only real challenges man faces are technical ones.

All the best,

Geoffrey