A Note on the “Others” in Heidegger’s philosophy

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In order to understand the role of “the Others” in Heidegger’s philosophy, one must first develop an understanding of “Dasein”. Heidegger essentially distinguishes Dasein from the notion of a Cartesian mind which is a sort of an isolated and immaterial being. The word Dasein by itself means existence in the German language, however Heidegger dexterously crafts a technical interpretation of the word to express one of his                              Martin Heidegger (1889 – 1976)                    quintessential philosophical insights.

The word “sein” means “to be”. The prefix “Da” means “there”. So “Dasein” means “being out there”. More explicitly Dasein is supposed to be an understanding of a human being as being out there in the world, interacting with a familiar environment (such as the totality of equipment that are references to one other which are understood in terms of their use), and other beings, with a particular set of moods. Heidegger asserts that every consciousness out in the world is constantly orienting itself to situations. These situations cause one’s consciousness to be directed. Note that all acts of consciousness have meaning in virtue of the objects to which these acts are directed. Now the being of Dasein in the world is nothing like the being of some inanimate object. For instance a pen on a desk can never touch the desk or the air around it because it lacks a consciousness that will allow it to interpret other entities or the world. It is merely “present-at-hand”. Only to the conscious being does the pen make sense as a member of the intricate interconnected web of references connecting a totality of such equipment (the pen, paper, desk and ink are understood in virtue of their references to each other).

One of the basic activities of Dasein is inquiry into its own nature of being (self-conscious conscious beings).  In Heidegger’s words, “Dasein is an entity which does not just occur among other entities. Rather it is ontically (the what-ness of it is) distinguished by the fact that, in its very Being, that Being is an issue for it.” To summarize, it’s imperative to keep in mind that Dasein’s identity is strongly linked to its own situated, directed, repeatedly interpretive activity.  Heidegger notes that there are two important characteristics of Dasein, “the priority of ‘existentia’ over essential, and the fact that Dasein is in each case mine.”  This means that you are always choosing how you are going to exist.

The “Others” are those from whom one cannot distinguish themselves. In Heidegger’s words,  “By ‘Others’ we do not mean everyone else but me—those over against whom the ‘I’ stands out. They are rather those from whom, for the most part, one does not distinguish oneself—those among whom one is too… By reason of this with-like Being-in-the-world, the world is always the one that I share with Others.”

The Others are thereby engaged in the same kind of projects as one’s own. Note that as every piece of equipment is involved in a human project, we encounter the Others through their use of equipment in our world. Heidegger cites the example of an individual who might use a boat anchored at shore to explain this notion. He notes that, “even if it is a “boat which is strange to us” it is still indicative of Others. The Others who are thus “encountered” in a ready to hand, environmental context of equipment, are not somehow added on in thought to some Thing which is proximally just present at hand.”

Note that this equipment cannot exist independently for a being as all the equipment collectively is perceived as a “totality of equipment” based on various individual equipment’s relative roles that are illustrated through relevant assignments. In Heidegger’s words, “A totality of equipment is constituted by various ways of the “in order to” such as serviceability, conduciveness, usability and manipulability.” In short one encounter’s the Others environmentally.

Heidegger observes that, “there is constant care as to the way one differs from them (the Others), whether that differences is merely one that is to be evened out, whether one’s own Dasein has lagged behind the Others and wants to catch up in relation to them, or whether one’s own Dasein already has some priority over them and sets out to keep them suppressed.”

What he is essentially saying is that there is a tendency to subjugate one’s authentic self in order to internalize the norms of the “They.” This is a consequence of “Distantiality” which is Dasein’s proclivity to be affected and concerned by any deviance from the established social norms systemically generated by the Others.

In one’s own subjection to the they lies the root cause for the subjection of Dasein to the Others.   Heidegger warns that as one metaphorically merges with the Others and the distinctiveness of the Others fades away, “the real dictatorship of the they is unfolded.” He provides a detailed analogy of how Dasein virtually behaves as a herded sheep due this subjection and is consequently “disburdened of its Being” as it will avoid dealing with the fundamental question of dealing with its own existence. So in falling, Dasein is escaping itself as the they prescribes how to interpret the world leading to an obviously inauthentic being.

Heidegger observes that in the falling of Dasein, “(Dasein) has, in the first instance, fallen away from itself as an authentic potentiality for Being its Self, and has fallen into the world.” The discussion on the falling of Dasein is essentially based on understanding the inauthentic being. Idle talk, curiosity and ambiguity characterize the manners in which such an inauthenticity manifests itself.  Idle talk is the kind of discourse one has in the mode of distantiality. It is an effective strategy for distraction as there is no critical thinking or examination of information that might challenge the rhetoric of the Others. Curiosity in Heidegger’s context is an insatiable quest to learn something about the current, simply for the sake of novelty. This serves as yet another strategy for disburdenment of Dasein (from discovering its authentic self) as it will not analyze, discover and understand its own authentic self, disconnected from the “they”. Ambiguity is characterized by Dasein not embarking on the quest of genuine self-discovery as a consequence of being lost due to the distracting effects of idle talk and curiosity.  At this point we can draw a distinction between the authentic self (the mine-self) and the inauthentic self (the they-self). It should be clear that these phenomenon of inauthenticity lead to what Heidegger calls averageness which is essentially a “Being-lost in the public-ness of the ‘they’ ”.

Dasein is in a constant state of temptation to become inauthentic due to the dominating presence of the they. One starts to develop a sense of security and falsely believes that one is in an authentic state where all of one’s possibilities are guaranteed. This belief that Dasein is “in the best of order” leads to a sense of tranquility for Dasein. Such tempting and tranquilizing causes the acceleration of the falling of Dasein which leads to the alienation of Dasein from its true self as its authentic self with all its possibilities starts getting hidden from it.  In Heidegger’s words, “This alienation closes off from Dasein its authenticity and possibility.” At this point, “the alienation of falling- at once tempting and tranquilizing- leads to its own movement, to Dasein’s getting entangled in itself.”  Heidegger explicitly states that these phenomenon of temptation, tranquilizing, alienating and self-entangling characterize the Being which is falling. It’s important to observe that even though there is a downward plunge “into and within the groundlessness of the inauthentic Being of the they” which strips one off authentic possibilities, one still recedes into “the tranquilized supposition,”  that one is actually ascending due to the belief that one “possesses everything or that everything is within (one’s) reach.”

It is imperative to remember that Heidegger does not assert that one must be isolated from the others to be authentic or prevent the falling of Dasein. Instead he notes that one must find a new way of relating to the others where one is not lost to the public-ness of the they. Heidegger’s contribution and consistency to the general tenets of the modern understanding of existential philosophy should be glaringly conspicuous by the given analogy.

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