In the excerpt from The Courage To Be, Paul Tillich purports that in his view, the philosophies of Martin Heidegger represent the clearest view of Existentialist philosophy, so much so that Tillich unapologetically declares that Heidegger is the “symbol of present-day Existentialism” (333). From there, Tillich offers his reading of Heidegger’s texts, stating that from Heidegger he concludes that man possesses complete and utter freedom, that “[n]othing is given to him to determine his creativity” (334). On this point, I strongly disagree. Whether the fault lies with Heidegger or merely with Tillich’s interpretation cannot be easily delineated, but as other contemporary philosophers such as Adriana Cavarero and Judith Butler have hypothesized and repeatedly argued, mankind receives a myriad of characteristics and expectations from the moment each individual takes their first breath that influences the path of their lives.
From birth, man is given language, given culture, given gender, and even given ethnicity. In the works of Judith Butler, for instance, she avows that people are categorized from birth into two categories that possess drastic ramifications for the opportunities that will be made available to them throughout their lives: the two categories of male and female. Gender, according to Butler, is not biological. Rather, it is assigned, forced upon us from the cradle, and used as the parameters for how one may act and what one may pursue. For instance, if someone is male, they are expected to be brawny, stoic, and professionally successful. If someone is female, on the other hand, they are expected to be sensitive, nurturing, and domestically-minded. As such, any individual who acts outside of those boundaries are seen as strange, queer, or even sub-human. Hence, the constructs of gender restricts one’s supposedly inherent freedom.
But to be fair, it can be argued that all these social structures can be escaped, should one possess the inner fortitude to do so. New languages can be learned, different cultures can be experienced, the boundaries of gender can be traversed, and foreign ethnicities can be inhabited. But regardless of whether man disposes of or adds to the characteristics assigned to him, man does receive an entire gamut of traits upon his arrival into society. Only through a conscious effort can the limitations of these traits be broken down. Hence, man does receive certain expectations that can sway the path of their lives. However, to evoke Freidrich Nietzsche’s concept of the Ubermensch, it is up to the individual as to whether these traits will truly curb their creativity.