Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Authenticity, Freedom, and Gelassenheit

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Authenticity, Freedom, and Gelassenheit

Article excerpt

Heidegger and, in his wake, the so-called "existentialist" movement introduced in the philosophical discourse of the twentieth century the concept of authenticity. Properly speaking, the German word Eigentlichkeit, which was translated into French, and subsequently into English and Spanish, with the word authenticity, has a different origin and different semantic possibilities, as the parallel between Eigentlichkeit and the key concept of the later Heidegger, Ereignis, shows. For the purposes of this essay, however, the word authenticity, which in the "existentialist" meaning is not yet recognized by the Oxford English Dictionary, will be used without further qualifications as a Heideggerean concept. I understand this essay to be not so much a contribution to Heidegger scholarship as an attempt to explore the meaning, the presuppositions, and the implications of the concept of authenticity with Heidegger's help but without restricting myself to Heidegger's teaching. In this context, I will briefly engage the question of freedom and determinism and the Kantian understanding of morality. The question of freedom, on the one hand, emerges at this point because the concept of authenticity involves the possibility of choosing to be who one is, and this possibility is negated by a deterministic understanding of human action. I shall show that the position of determinism is, indeed, irrefutable, but also indemonstrable, and that, even if it were a proved doctrine, it would not eliminate the need, on the part of the agent, to choose a course of action. But deterministic teaching does have a bearing on the question of authenticity and, in general, on the question of freedom, insofar as its serves as a mechanism of self-justification which allows the individual to have the conviction that she does not need to exert herself to be her true self. Kant's understanding of morality, on the other hand, is discussed as a way of showing that the idea of authenticity and the idea of morality share the fundamental presupposition of the freedom of the human being to choose who she is, in addition to the categorical demand to overcome what one ordinarily already is ("fallen" or beholden to the inclinations) and to effect what I call a conversion by which the will breaks the attachments to what appears valuable in ordinary life so as to treat it as "nothing." After these discussions of morality and freedom I shall conclude by returning to Heidegger in order to show that the idea of Gelassenheit, which he developed later in his career without explicit references to the early concept of authenticity, is nonetheless a development, and indeed a more adequate formulation, of this concept, and that it can be understood as the best formulation of that "detachment" which is postulated both in the idea of authenticity and in that of morality.

As a result of the popularity of the existentialist movement, the word "authenticity" acquired a peculiar meaning and flavor, which has passed into ordinary usage. I am not interested in the ordinary meaning of the word, but only in its place in Heidegger's thought, particularly in Being and Time. An analysis of the meaning of the word, as applied to human beings in an "existentialist" sense, reveals important truths about human existence. Notice the differences in meaning when we apply the word to nonhuman beings. If I say that this rock is not authentic (because it is in fact made of cardboard), I mean that this thing is not genuinely a rock. IfI say of a man that he is not authentic, I do not imply that he is not really a man. And nonetheless it is clear that I mean to say that he is in some way not genuine. What is not genuine about him? His humanity is genuine, we would say, that is, he is genuinely human; or perhaps not, perhaps what we mean (or should mean) by saying that he is not authentic is precisely that he is not genuinely human. But for now it suffices to state that when we say that a man is not authentic we do not mean to say that he is a fake man and in reality a member of a different species. …

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