Academic journal article Philosophy Today

To Think as Mortals: Heidegger and the Finitude of Philosophical Existence

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

To Think as Mortals: Heidegger and the Finitude of Philosophical Existence

Article excerpt

Immortals are mortal, mortals immortal, living the other's death, dead in the other's life. Heraclitus, 22B62

En-owning owns god over to man in that it owns man to god.


Contributions to Philosophy

(Front Enowning)

The relation between philosophy and the existence of Dasein is a recurrent theme in Heidegger's writing. Analyses of anxiety, conscience, and resoluteness sit alongside reminders of the demands made by a philosophical life and calls for commitment on the part of his students. It is not just that philosophy is difficult or time consuming. For Heidegger, there is an unbreakable link between philosophy and the existence of Dasein, insofar as the temporal horizon for the disclosure of Being is to be elicited from the existence of Dasein itself, in and through which the ontological difference occurs. Fundamental ontology rests on an "ontic foundation."1 Moreover, fundamental ontology depends for its success on the extent to which Heidegger's philosophical analysis can preserve the dimension of the ontological difference, while at the same time affirming the necessity of the relation between the optic and the ontological. The recognition of this necessity, which informs the problematic of Being and Time, amounts to an acknowledgment that philosophy itself is inextricably linked to the finitude of human existence: to its temporality, affectivity, understanding, and above all to its mortality. It is for this reason that in Heidegger's view philosophy cannot be undertaken as a specialism abstracted or otherwise set apart from one's existence as a whole. Even as we read denials that authenticity is ethically privileged, it is plain that Heidegger regards philosophy as making extraordinary demands on the individual. Indeed, the "involvement" and "engagement" it demands are such as to require the "illusion, as it were, that the given task at hand is the one and only necessary task"; to accomplish anything at all one must, says Heidegger, have acquired that "art of existing" [Existierkunst] by which this illusion of necessity is conjured and sustained from out of the finitude of existence.2 In view of the fact that Heidegger regards philosophy as a distinctive possibility essential to the existence of Dasein as such, two questions present themselves. First, what are the repercussions for philosophy of its optic foundation in the existence of Dasein? Second, does the activity of philosophy represent the accomplishment of the existence of each individual Dasein? To these, a third may also be added: why is the unique "necessity" of philosophy said by Heidegger to be an "illusion"?

These questions will be approached via an issue central to the critical appropriation of Aristotle that figured so highly in the early period of Heidegger's writing; namely, that of the relation between phronesis and sophia.3 Placing the question of this relation in proximity to that of the optic foundation of ontology, and the accompanying interest in the mutual implication of philosophy and existence, will help to shed light both on Heidegger's interpretation of Aristotle and on his understanding of finitude of philosophy.

Phronesis and Sophia

In the course of making the case for sophia as the crowning accomplishment of a good life, Aristotle exhorts us, in line with the overarching teleology that governs his philosophy, not to be satisfied with the Euripidean advice to think as mortals, but rather to be true to the highest, divine, element within our souls.4 The opposition between phronesis and sophia is thereby aligned with that between the human and the divine, the mortal and the immortal. Their crossing, which is never a reduction or subordination, poses the question of mortality in relation to philosophy. In view of Heidegger's acknowledgment of the implication of philosophy in the finitude of human existence, we are bound to reconsider this inter-relation of the human and the divine, the mortal and the immortal. …

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