Thursday, March 15, 2012

Understanding Authenticity and Inauthenticity in 'Being and Time'

   In the interest of trying to make things simple before they are complicated I want to suggest a way of guiding ones reading of Being and Time through a simple statement of the ultimate relevance of the authentic/inauthentic distinction. There is a lot to draw out of a distinction such as the authentic/inauthentic, but we should strive to situate ourselves with the term in such a way that it informs a larger scope of our interpretation before we begin to suggest elements that are not so obvious (yet which may be quite important nonetheless).
   'Authentic' and 'inauthentic' can become distracting because they have an air of moralizing about them. Does Heidegger mean to see that people who are inauthentic, or who spend more time being inauthentic than authentic, are somehow bad? Even though Heidegger denies this flat out in the text, there is still a tendency to read him as doing so with a wink. But my questions for such readers are: how is such a reading helpful in clarifying the core issue of the text? Would we choose to distract ourselves from what the main issue is while at the same time needing to contradict what is said in the text about authentic and inauthentic? Does moralizing seem to offer any benefit to the main objectives of the text? Does Heidegger ever suggest in other works that such moralizing is beneficial for understanding his work?
   Heidegger himself does not necessarily do a good job of clarifying what role the terms are to serve in his work explicitly (and with good reason, since he works through exposition), but if we are allowed to assume that he did not develop these terms blindly, or on a tangent, then we should be able to see why these centrally featured terms are relevant for the main theme of Being and Time.
   The main problem of Being and Time is simple to put: how do we formulate the question of the meaning of Being (read as: to be). Clearly, we can say, "What is the meaning of Being?", so what is outstanding in the formulation? In short, the meaning of the question! We need to make sure that we actually ask about Being (to be), but how are we to know what to do? It's not clear how to understand the way Heidegger wants to ask the question at first. In fact, we can understand how he could by no means provide an answer to the meaning of this question of the meaning of Being prior to working the question itself out. The very formulation of the question is a puzzle that occupies the whole of Being and Time, and it is examining this puzzle that gets us farther into an understanding of the text.
   In some way we must make a theme of 'Being' such that we can inquire into it, but we must do so in such a way that we can first figure out what is being discussed at all. Heidegger may as well ask "what is the meaning of 'puffinstuff'?", since he can't come out and tell us, and may not himself understand precisely what he is asking about. But he does know what he is asking into (at least through a vague fore-understanding, something average), and he can provide a great deal of hints that hook us into the tradition of talking about 'Being' and 'beings'; these clues are negative, and he employs them in circling around trying to get ever closer to what he wants to discuss. Now, how does authenticity get us closer in our circling to an understanding of Being?
   A rough definition of 'authentic' may help: ones encounter is 'authentic' whenever the Being (to be) of what is encountered becomes a concern. So, to use an example, if I am using a hammer and it 'breaks' or 'fails', then I may not take this in stride. I may stop and look at the thing which has become conspicuous. When the equipment fails, we can make a theme of its Being (the manner in which it is). Now, the Being of Dasein is a question for Fundamental Ontology, and Dasein is not ready or present-at-hand like a hammer, and so Dasein does not simply break or fall apart. However, the equipment which we may engage with is not itself authentic or inauthentic - it is our concern with it that is. Do we "encounter ourselves" authentically or inauthentically? This is a possibility of our Being, and just as an authentic encounter with the hammer makes a theme of its Being possible for us, an "authentic encounter" with Dasein would make the Being of Dasein a possible theme.
   (Along with Heidegger, we should be wary of treating Dasein as something ready or present-at-hand. This is why I put 'encountering ourselves' above in scare quotes above: we clearly do not encounter ourselves in some manner akin to a hammer. This should be evident in that authentic and inauthentic encounters with objects ready or present-at-hand are possibly ways for Dasein to be.)
   Now, Being-towards-death, resoluteness, &c are all important in how we are to understand Dasein's being authentic. I will not develop the interpretation of these further here since my intentions are simply to indicate the relevance of the authentic/inauthentic distinction and provide an indication of some direction from there.
   Now, does 'inauthentic' serve us in any way in terms of how it is possible to make something the theme of some discourse? We can note right away that it at least forms a different possibility for the Being of Dasein from authentic so we can narrow down further what the authentic is. A more interesting thing to note about the inauthentic is that, in being closely aligned with 'averageness' and 'everydayness' it is closely aligned with the starting point of the inquiry - we cannot define 'Being' and then inquire into it, we begin with a more or less average understanding of Being, an understanding that for many is influenced by the tradition of philosophy in such a way that asking into its meaning is daft. The tradition coaxes us into inauthenticity.
   The problem with the question of the meaning of Being is that we do take it inauthentically (not concerning our Being) at first, or not at all. The work serves as an exposition to the question, and this exposition of the question is itself the answer, in a sense, as far as philosophy has to offer it. What does the exposition consist in? Does it consists in going from an inauthentic encounter with Being to an authentic encounter with Being? (I note that Kant, in the Critique of Pure Reason, Doctrine of Method, says that Philosophy cannot properly define anything, but can rather only operate on expositions of its concepts. Heidegger seems to obey this, and reveal something very important about this remark by Kant - even if by accident.) What of 'Phenomenology' as a discourse? Can such a discourse on Being be possible in any other way than one which forces the reader into authenticity?
   Perhaps these sorts of reflections can be crucial for understanding Being and Time, perhaps not, but these occur to me as powerful suggestions of the importance and relation of 'authentic' and 'inauthentic' to the overarching goals of the text.
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