Sunday, September 27, 2009

Authenticity and Values

In the selection from Being and Time, Heidegger claims that Da-sein is the they to the point at which it assimilates the inherited values of the they, society's cultural baggage. Da-sein experiences acculturation by which it comes to know itself; it knows itself as how the they constituted it. Specific prejudices are given to Da-sein in an unreflective transmission of the they, and a part of these biases, in specific relation to humans of the West, is the Plato-Descartes-Kant tradition in philosophy, a willingness to play a specific language game. In class, Charlotte argued that Da-sein referred to humans, but I suppose Heidegger's reason for never equating "Da-sein" to "humanity" is his prerogative to create a new vocabulary for inquiry into existence, to break with the willingness to use a specific vocabulary in describing experience. The they claims to have privileged information about the world, the correct vocabulary that everyone should learn. Perhaps sometimes the they proclaims what is useful, something directly related to our facticity. An example would be my mother (and others) telling me how bankruptcy lawyers are needed today, as another mode of persuasion of me to follow the herd into law school. But this is not authentically "I."

Perhaps a different way of recognizing Heidegger's characterization of "the they" is to be found in Dewey. He states that our life experiences are "already overlaid and saturated with the products of the reflection of past generations and by-gone ages." This amounts to our inherited morality which Nietzsche critiques as "slavish" and that we, for the most part, accept as the norm. Bringing together Nietzsche's critique of slave morality with Kierkegaard and Heidegger's disappointment with each unreflective generation, "the revaluation of all values" is the end result of a philosophical attitude toward life. Picking apart the various prejudices we inherit from our social positions is what amounts to the examined life of which Socrates stressed the importance. What Heidegger is suggesting is not wholesale discarding of our preferences as socially defined and thus untenable, but the Nietzschean revaluation seems to be the medium through which one achieves authenticity of self. This equates to treating our notion of death with the utmost scrutiny, rather than accepting the they's projection of "untroubled indifference toward the most extreme possibility" of existence. While commensurability between these various philosophers' notions of critical thinking may be impossible, together they seem to be acknowledging the same overall structure of existence, one in which a person can consciously choose to live authentically, to be self-reflective,to point out one's major influences in order to accept or deny them.

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