A Critique of Individualist Interpretations of Heidegger’s Authenticity

Regarding Heidegger’s critique of the Being of the They as inauthentic, the common interpretation posits that there is something essential to the social element of the They that makes that mode of being inauthentic. This has led many to the belief that Heidegger is a champion of individualism. But this is not the case. The core meaning of authenticity has nothing to do with whether or not one finds one’s being through others, but instead has to with the degree to which one flees, or stays true to, the true being of Dasein, the being of primordial care. It is important to note here that Dasein’s true being is not the being of an individual atomic being, autonomous and free from the herd of others. Heidegger is not speaking of an autonomous ego, that is held to be free from society, free from the sway of others. Heidegger’s meditation on Dasein is much more radical than this. His inquiry begins prior to any serious distinction between self and other, and most certainly does not contain any developed concept of the individual, hence his use of Dasein as a new term for the Being under discussion. Heidegger’s notion of the primordial meaning of Being is care, with care being the impersonal, selfless, and anxiety-causing element of what most call the self. However, it is important to note that one’s care needn’t serve the individual. In fact, it needn’t serve any particular thing at all, for it is grounded in negativity, the experience of one’s horizons of being, or, more accurately put, the experience of one’s non-being. The experience of one’s non-being makes no sense to dogmatic, formal logical categories, and must make no sense, because it is the experience of the ego’s desire to be whole perpetually failing to actualize its totalitarian demand. One can never be whole, either through others or in oneself, and the experience of this eternal failure is the authentic experience of Being as such.
When Heidegger examines the notion of the They, he is using an everyday example to try and elucidate the phenomenon of fleeing one’s primordial being. The basic experience that any individualist undergoes when they reject the meaning given to them by others, and instead insist on finding “their own meaning in life” is a good example of one beginning to seek authenticity of being. However, what Heidegger fails to foresee is the degree to which individualists will create dogmatic conceptions of the self as an isolated free agent in order to create yet another mode of flight, flight from the negativity inherent in one’s primordial experience of being. Flight is the pursuit of being whole, of tranquility, peace. It is the pursuit of freedom, Truth, or anything meant to fix the problem at the center of Being. What individualists think that they ultimately want is to be left alone, to be free. However, this is an impossible ideal, built on a dogmatic conception of the self as something self-contained and potentially whole, because one’s origins are essentially social, and one’s direction always moves towards non-being. From the mother and society that birthed you, to death that annihilates you. From a social being to a non-being, one’s being is never one’s ownmost, so long as the conception of authenticity inherits the notion of the ego self.  Paradoxically, one becomes authentic when one thoroughly critiques the ego-self and experiences the pure negativity at the core of being, the infinite desire and concern that extends outwards either in space towards others or in time towards one’s future. The authenticity of the self lies in the realization that one does not have a “self” to find, let alone a self that can grant freedom or genuine satisfaction.

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