Being and Time, 4

Authenticity, Nullity, Freedom

In the previous response, our discussion of Heidegger’s notion of “being-in” led us to the concept of the “there,” the “disclosedness” of Dasein, the “burden” of Dasein’s existence as thrown into the world (129ff.). In thrownness we encounter Dasein’s “being-possible,” and the understanding which projects this possibility onto the world as care (139-40). Through the equiprimordial union of understanding with discourse, we experience care as the “articulation of the intelligibility of the there,” the “upon which” of Dasein’s projection (147). Thus, Dasein’s being-in-the-world is always already interpreted as being-possible. The there as the existential space of Dasein is the “openness” and “clearing” of existence as the “potentiality of being” (129, 140). And yet, in its thrownness, even Dasein’s interpretation is thrown, entangled with the world and lost in the they. Dasein’s everyday being-possible is inauthentic (169). Rather than choose one’s “ownmost Dasein,” one is “guided” by the they, and “plunge[s]” into the “groundlessness and nothingness of inauthentic everydayness” (169ff.). The task that emerges, then, is to gain the “phenomenal horizon” from which the authentic being of Dasein might be recovered (161). The following response will engage with the question of authenticity as it plays out over the remainder of Being and Time.

The first essential movement toward the authenticity of Dasein can be found in Heidegger’s articulation of truth. With the there being the disclosure of Dasein, which is to say, Dasein in the openness of its potentiality of being, the being of Dasein is resituated from the position of subject to the position of the “between” of subject and object (129). Dasein is both potentiality, and the disclosure of potentiality, and as such is bound up with the world that is the upon which of its projection. Indeed, there is no divide between subject and object; world and Dasein are always already together. In being together with the world, Dasein is being-possible, and as being-possible, Dasein has always already discovered being, which means that Dasein has always already discovered the “being-true” of beings (210). This truth is not simply a “relation” of “something to something,” nor is it “an agreement between knowing and the object in the sense of a correspondence”—the being-true of beings is “beings in the how of their discoveredness,” which is entanglement with Dasein and with each other in a totality of relevance—what we can also refer to as meaning (210). Dasein as clearing, therefore, is the disclosure of meaning, of the being-true of beings; truth is not something outside to be stated or judged: we are already “in” it (218). Though initially lost in everydayness, the being “in the truth” of the being-possible of Dasein contains the very potentiality of a return to authenticity (218).

The second essential movement toward the authenticity of Dasein is in the “horizon of time” (225). If Dasein’s “essential structures are centered in disclosedness,” and disclosedness “is as an understanding potentiality-of-being” projected upon the meaningful (i.e., referential and relevant) being-true of beings, and the understanding projection of Dasein is its being-possible, then it follows, for Heidegger, that Dasein is always “being-ahead-of-itself” (221, 185). As projection, Dasein is “that which it is not yet” (141); it is not merely what it was or what it is but what it will be—it is its potentiality, and as potentiality, Dasein cannot be understood without reference to time. The being-possible of Dasein together with the being-true of beings is a fundamentally temporal phenomenon. If the temporality of Dasein is to be understood, then, it must be understood as it is not yet, in the “constant unfinished quality” that “lies in the essence of [its] basic constitution” (227). Dasein as a whole contains its not yet, its potentiality for being, but if Dasein attains its potentiality (in full) “it has also already thus become no-longer-being-there” (227). Put simply, the end of the potentiality of Dasein is death (228). Dasein in its projection is therefore “being toward death,” and its temporality must be interpreted in these terms (228).

The paradox of the potentiality of Dasein is that when “Dasein reaches its wholeness in death, it simultaneously loses the being of the there” (229). That which makes Dasein what it is and must be also renders Dasein not itself in its completion. This is not cause for nihilism, however. In death is contained the possibility of Dasein’s return to itself. Death has an “‘objective’ givenness” through the “being-with with others” of Dasein (229). It is a fact of existence. But as “going-out-of-the-world” death presents Dasein with something “lifeless,” something “which has lost its life” (229). It is a fact, but not factical, that is, not “bound up in [the] ‘destiny’” of Dasein (56). For this reason Heidegger argues that we “do not experience the dying of others in a genuine sense; we are at best always just “near by”” (230). Dying, therefore, is something that “[e]very Dasein itself must take ... upon itself in every instance ... death is always essentially my own” (231). It cannot truly be represented to Dasein by the they, because the dying of another is inaccessible in its facticallity. This “force[s]” us “into a purely existential orientation toward Dasein which is in each case one’s own”—and so, into the beginning of authenticity (231).

The being of Dasein is “a constant ‘lack of wholeness’ which finds its end in death” (233). We must clarify, however, that “ending” does “not necessarily mean fulfilling oneself”; “[i]n death, Dasein is neither fulfilled nor does it simply disappear; it has not become finished or completely available as something at hand” (235-36). It is precisely the unavailability of Dasein in its dying that necessitates the being of death as one’s own, and as one’s own, dying is understood through projection. So, then, the end of Dasein is not “being-at-an-end” but “being toward the end” (236). It is directional, an existential orientation of the being of Dasein. Dasein does not simply arrive at death as “something objectively present”; death is “an imminence,” the “most extreme” potentiality of the being of Dasein as the there (240). What is more, it is not a mere imminence—every potentiality of Dasein is imminent to it, by virtue of Dasein’s being-in-the-world. Rather, death is an absolute imminence in which Dasein is “completely thrown back upon its ownmost potentiality-of-being,” and in which “all relations to other Dasein are dissolved in it” (241). In death, the being of the there is entirely exposed, its potentiality “insuperable” (241). Along with this insuperability, death is a certainty, which means that, as certain, it is “based in truth,” in the “being-disclosive” of the being of Dasein (246). Though certain, however, death is also “indefinite,” meaning “it is possible in every moment” (248, 47). The “full existential and ontological concept of death” is thus “the ownmost, nonrelational, certain, and, as such, indefinite and insuperable possibility of Dasein” (248).

In being ahead of itself, Dasein’s being is being toward death, the “eminent possibility of Dasein itself,” the “possibility of the impossibility of existence [Existenz] in general” (250-51). As toward this possibility, Dasein exists in “anticipation,” an anticipation that “first makes this possibility possible and sets it free as possibility” (251). In this setting free for possibility in anticipation “Dasein discloses itself to itself,” projecting itself upon its “ownmost potentitality of being” (251). This means, in short, “to exist” (252). In being-toward-death, Dasein encounters its existence, which is to say, the being-true of itself. Heidegger continues:

Being toward this possibility lets Dasein understand that the most extreme possibility of existence, that of giving itself up, is imminent. But anticipation does not evade the impossibility of bypassing death, as does inauthentic being-toward-death, but frees itself for it. Becoming free for one’s own death in anticipation liberates one from one’s lostness in chance possibilities ... Anticipation discloses to existence that its extreme possibility lies in giving itself up, and thus it shatters all one’s clinging to whatever existence one has reached. In anticipation, Dasein guards itself against falling back behind itself, or behind the potentiality-for-being that it has understood ... Holding oneself in this truth, that is, being certain of what has been disclosed, demands anticipation above all ... holding death for true requires Dasein in the complete authenticity of its existence. In anticipation, Dasein can first make certain of its ownmost being in its insuperable totality. (253-54)

In being-toward-death, Dasein stands out into the openness of its being, “finds itself faced with the nothingness of the possible impossibility of its existence,” a posture that is “essentially anxiety” (255). Therefore:

What is characteristic about authentic, existentially projected being-toward-death can thus be summarized as follows: anticipation reveals to Dasein its lostness in the they-self, and brings it face to face with the possibility to be itself, primarily unsupported by concern that takes care, but to be itself in passionate, anxious freedom toward death, which is free of the illusions of the they, factical, and certain of itself. (255)

The being of Dasein in its authentic being-toward-death is convinced of itself, “bears witness” to itself, “demands” itself “of itself”—all to say that, Dasein, in every instance, requires the truth of itself, meaning that it must choose itself in the potentiality of its being (255).

This “choice” is “attested” to by the “‘voice of conscience,’” which Heidegger considers a “primordial phenomenon” (258). In being-ahead-of-itself, Dasein is what it is not yet—it lacks itself. In being-ahead-of-itself, Dasein is also being toward that which it lacks, a possibility which is, at its most extreme, death—the possibility of the impossibility of existence. Insofar as Dasein in its authentic being-toward-death freely chooses this possibility, it responds to the “call” of that which it lacks, and this Heidegger describes as the “call of conscience” (259). Such is the “ownmost being-guilty” of Dasein (259). As the translator notes, “Schuld,” the root of “Schuldigsein” or “being-guilty,” has the more “basic meaning” of “lacking something ontologically,” and thus “Schuldigsein” could be translated as “being a lack” (259). This is an important insight, allowing us to distance the “being-guilty” of Dasein from “ethical” and “theological” concepts of guilt; the ontological guilt of Dasein is that it lacks itself (259). Conscience speaks of this lack, which is to say, it speaks of “nothing”; it is that which first discloses to Dasein that it is not itself, and that the self given it by the they is nothing (263). Indeed, in speaking of nothing conscience speaks in the “uncanny mode of silence”—the call “confronts being-in-the-world with the nothingness of the world about which it is anxious in the anxiety about its ownmost potentiality-of-being,” revealing being-in-the-world as uncanny, as “not-at-home” (266). So, in confronting death, and freely choosing this possibility, Dasein is disclosed to itself in its uncanniness, as in the world, but not of it, as whole only in going from it.

But why is Dasein’s being toward the end which it lacks a being-guilty? How are we to conceive of this guilt apart from the ethical and theological traces that cling to it? As per usual, Heidegger begins from a phenomenal, everyday basis. From such a point of view, guilt can be seen as “having debts” and “being responsible for” (270). These are the two primary “vulgar significations of being guilty” (271). Insofar as responsibility and debt “go together and determine a kind of behaviour which we call “making oneself responsible”” (271), we can follow Heidegger in asserting that “being responsible” has the sense of “being-the-ground for a lack in the Dasein of another, in such a way that this being-the-ground itself is defined as “lacking” in terms of that for which it is the ground.” Heidegger continues: “This kind of lacking is a failure to satisfy some demand placed on one’s existing being-with with others” (271). One makes oneself responsible for a debt when one takes out a loan—one lacks a certain amount of funds, and the lender lacks repayment until one can return the loan. The recipient of the loan is, therefore, responsible for the lack; he is the ground for it, and as such, is also “defined as ‘lacking’” (271). The key here is not to derive Dasein’s ontological guilt from everyday moral, economic, or theological guilt; the situation is the inverse. The “being-guilty” of Dasein has always already preceded the everyday guilt of entangled being-in-the-world (271). The lack therein is of a fundamentally different sort (272).

Something that is lacked has the character of “not being present,” but such is a “determination of being of objective presence,” a determination that cannot be made of Dasein. The “character of the not [Nicht]” is, however, “present in the idea” of Dasein’s being-guilty (272). The “formal existential idea of ‘guilty’” is, therefore, “being-the-ground for a being [Sein] which is determined by a not—that is, being-the-ground of a nullity [Nichtigkeit]” (272). This is not a deficiency of Dasein, however. An examination of the following paragraphs will clarify as much.

The being of Dasein is care. It includes in itself facticity (thrownness), existence (project) and falling prey. Dasein exists as thrown, brought into its there not of its own accord. It exists as a potentiality-of-being which belongs to itself, and yet has not given itself to itself. Existing, it never gets back behind its thrownness so that it could ever release this “that it is and has to be” from its being a self and lead it into the there. But thrownness does not lie behind it as an event which actually occurred, something that happened to it and was again separated from Dasein. Rather, as long as it is, Dasein is constantly its “that” as care. As this being, delivered over to which it can exist uniquely as the being which it is, it is, existing, the ground of its potentiality-of-being. Even though it has not laid the ground itself, it rests in the weight of it, which mood reveals to it as a burden. (272-73)

Dasein, in its being, is the ground of (its) potentiality. Potentiality is, in itself no thing, but the possibility of some thing. Dasein therefore lacks nothing, being the ground of the lack which is potentiality. Dasein does not produce this ground, but finds itself already in it, just as Dasein has not produced and is already in the there.

And how is Dasein this thrown ground? Only by projecting itself upon the possibilities into which it is thrown. The self, which as such has to lay the ground of itself, can never gain power over that ground, and yet it has to take over being the ground in existing. To be its own thrown ground is the potentiality-of-being about which care is concerned. (273)

This is the authentic choice of Dasein, its choice of itself in response to the call which precedes it. Dasein is the ground, but has no power over it—it must take it over, it must accept the claim of the ground upon itself, the demand of its potentiality-of-being.

Being the ground [Grund-seiend], that is, existing as thrown, Dasein constantly lags behind its possibilities. It is never existent before its ground, but only from it and as it. Thus being the ground means never to gain power over one’s ownmost being from the ground up. This not [Nicht] belongs to the existential meaning of thrownness. Being the ground [Grund-seiend], it itself is a nullity of itself. Nullity by no means signifies not being present or not subsisting, but means a not that constitutes this being of Dasein, its thrownness. The quality of this not as a not is determined existentially. Being [seiend] a self, Dasein, as self, is the thrown being. Not through itself, but released to itself from the ground in order to be as the ground. Dasein is not itself the ground of its being, because the ground first arises from its own project, but as a self, it is the being [Sein] of its ground. The ground is always ground only for a being whose being has to take over being-the-ground. (273)

Dasein is what it is not yet. It lags behind. It is nowhere and nothing. It “is a nullity of itself,” “a not” (273). One must be sure to emphasize that Dasein is not a substrate, not the I-thing—it is no thing. Rather, it is the being of its ground, a being which cannot be accessed as some thing, but is that to which Dasein is released in its projection as free.

Dasein is its ground by existing, that is, in such a way that it understands itself in terms of possibilities and, thus understanding itself, is thrown being. But this means that, as a potentiality-of-being, it always stands in one possibility or another; it is constantly not other possibilies and has relinquished them in its existentiell project. As thrown, the project is not only determined by the nullity [Nichtigkeit] of being-the-ground, but is itself as project essentially null [nichtig]. Again, this definition by no means signifies the ontic property of being “unsuccessful” or “of no value” but an existential constituent of the structure of being of projecting. This nullity belongs to the being-free of Dasein for its existentiell possibilities. (273)

The “nullity” of “being-the-ground ... belongs to the being-free of Dasein” (273). Indeed, Dasein is awakened to the “anxious freedom toward death” that characterizes its “authentic, existentially projected” being in the call of its being-guilty (255). As Heidegger continues, this existential guilt is not some “dark quality” that one “could get rid of if [one] made sufficient progress,” but the very condition of the freedom of Dasein (274). The call of conscience, the being-guilty of Dasein, is the call to Dasein’s “ownmost possibility of existence.” And in responding, Dasein “has chosen itself” (276). This is Dasein’s existential responsibility. In the call, then, we see an “attestation” to the “primordial potentiality-of-being of Dasein” (276). Freedom, potentiality, choice—these are not additions to some more ‘primal’ mode of objective being. Dasein is not basically driven by its passions, its urges. The “call ... is not merely critical,” demanding of Dasein that it be more than itself, that it be better. The call is “positive,” calling Dasein out of the accidents of its thrownness, and into the authenticity of its being.

Dasein that responds to the call by authentically choosing itself is characterized by “resoluteness” (284). It is not a choice, once and for all, but a constant choosing of the self over time. Remember: Dasein is “not founded in the substantiality of a substance”—the being of Dasein is in “self-constancy,” which means that Dasein and its “fundamental structures ... are to be basically conceived “temporally”” (291). Authentic Dasein exists, therefore, in the mode of “[a]nticipatory resoluteness”—it exists toward, stands out into, the “null ground of its nullity,” the “possibility of the impossibility of existence,” the “absolute nothingness of Dasein” (291, 293). It is in “anticipatory resoluteness,” then, that Dasein “understands” the equiprimordial unity of “death” and “guilt” in care (293). Only in such an understanding can Dasein authentically take over itself as the “whole of being-in-the-world,” the “self that is this being [Seiende] as ‘I am’” (284). Furthermore, as “I am”—the meaningful whole of being-in-the-world as being-toward-death—“Dasein expresses ‘itself’ in saying-I” (304). This “everyday self-interpretation” discloses the attestation of Dasein to itself in its being-guilty, that guilt which, when freely chosen in anticipatory resoluteness, “does not keep on saying ‘I,’ but rather ‘is’ in reticence the thrown being that it can authentically be” (308). Once Dasein has finally been delivered over to itself as null, open, and free, choosing itself as the null ground of its potentiality-of-being, it need no longer assert itself as “I”—as someone, something. In its silent resoluteness, in its standing out (Ek-sistence) into the nothingness of its being, Dasein insistsstands in, we might say—its being. This insistence is not the loud clamour of the they, but a listening to the call which summons Dasein out of its lostness and into freedom. It is not an insistence to others, but to itself, the choice of itself, which is Dasein’s ownmost responsibility.

It is here, after some of the densest, most complex passages of Being and Time, that Heidegger begins to turn once more to the question of the meaning of being. He proceeds to argue that the “primordial unity of the structure of care [which is the being of Dasein] lies in temporality,” and that temporality thus “makes possible the unity of existence, facticity, and falling prey” (312-13). He discusses the “ecstasies of temporality” as “modes of being of Dasein” as care, and the “priority” of the future, the “possibility of an insuperable nullity,” to the being of Dasein (314-15). It is the “coming-toward-oneself” of Dasein in is temporality that is to exist in “one’s ownmost nullity,” one’s potentiality toward the future (315). Heidegger continues to outline how temporality “reveals itself as the historicity of Dasein,” and the “within-time-ness” of historicity in Dasein’s everydayness (317, 18). Heidegger analyses the manifold structure of Dasein with respect to temporality to demonstrate the primordiality of Dasein’s historicity (319-354) so as to make way for an “ontological understanding of historicity” in the “temporalizing of temporality” (358). Such an analysis “attempts to show that this being [Dasein] is not ‘temporal’ because it ‘is in history,’ but that, on the contrary, it exists and can exist historically only because it is temporal in the ground of its being” (359). This will bring Heidegger to his discussion of “fate,” the “authentic historicity” of Dasein, which is to “hand down to itself its inherited possibility,” to “take itself over in its history, retrieving itself” (366). Thus, in its historicity, Dasein discloses to itself its primordial temporality, and the temporality of the “structure” of “significance,” the “worldliness of the world,” with which, as being-in, it always is (394). He comes so close to entering into his question—and then stops. His final sections critiquing Hegel’s blindness to the question of the meaning of being in general do not themselves enter into the question. He concludes merely by asking: “Is there a way leading from primordial time to the meaning of being? Does time itself reveal itself as the horizon of being?” (415). And that is all. Following on the deeply challenging, even radical analyses of the preceding chapters, the ending of Being and Time is starkly inconclusive.

So what are we to do with Being and Time? Should it be treated as a failure? Or should we see its initial goal as a red herring on the way to Heidegger’s insights into human being, the being of Dasein? Like Heidegger, I have no answer. Perhaps the many who have followed him in his project—Levinas, Merleau-Ponty, Sartre, and the like—could provide paths forward, or perhaps even the later Heidegger himself. Further reading and thought are certainly required. For now I believe it is enough to leave Being and Time with a caution of Levinasian persuasion. Heidegger’s assertion of the authentic being of Dasein is bold and compelling. His argumentation, though circuitous, proves upon close reading conclusive. But in privileging the ownmost of Dasein, Heidegger emphasizes the individual at the expense of those otherswith whom the individual is always involved. Perhaps there is a significance in the others of Dasein beyond the being of the they. Perhaps a movement from “Dasein-with” to the “face” of Levinas’s ethical thought would open the being of Dasein to a fuller, richer complexity, clarifying the asymmetry of being-with of which Heidegger himself takes note. Perhaps, in the face of the Other, we might see the primordial togetherness from which the being of Dasein is given.

Works Cited

Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time. 1927. Translated by Joan Stambaugh, revised by Dennis J. Schmidt, State University of New York Press, 2010.

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