Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Resoluteness in the Middle Voice: On the Ethical Demensions of Heidegger's Being and Time

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Resoluteness in the Middle Voice: On the Ethical Demensions of Heidegger's Being and Time

Article excerpt

Wir Gewaltsamen, wir wahren langer. Aber wann, in welchem alter Leben, sind wir endlich offen and Empfanger'?

-Rainer Maria Rilke1

As an existential analytic of human Dasein, Being and Time never claims to be more than provisional. It stands today, as it did in 1927, as a prolegomenon to any further philosophical anthropology. Yet, despite the provisionality and formal generality of his most famous work, Heidegger nevertheless presents a definite ideal of existence within it. This ideal, called "ownedness" (Eigentlichkeit) or "authenticity," receives its existentiell attestation in the phenomenon of resoluteness (secs 54-60).

Heidegger's discussion of this phenomenon focuses on the concepts of conscience and guilt, culminating in a description of resoluteness as the understanding response to the silent call of "Guilty!" Given the moral resonance of these words, the question that immediately presents itself is this: is resoluteness an ethical ideal of existence? The response to this question from students of Heidegger's thought has by no means been univocal. On the-one hand, there are those who join Hans Jonas and Karl Lowith in denying the moral viability of resoluteness. For these thinkers, Heidegger's ideal amounts to a contentless decisionism. Others, such as Michael Zimmerman, Lawrence Vogel, Charles Sherover, and Frank Schalow, though recognizing the limitations inherent in the concept of resoluteness, have done much to illuminate its moral dimensions.

The task that is set by this question, and by the varying responses to it, is twofold: I ) resoluteness must be reconsidered in the light of its critics' comments in order to reveal whether or not it can form the viable basis of a Heideggerean ethics; and 2) the manner in which resoluteness can or cannot ground ethical interpersonal relationships must be explicated. I submit that resoluteness is not a voluntaristic ideal, but is better understood as an ideal of humility, wonderment, and self-knowledge. Moreover, as I hope to show, though in an admittedly provisional manner, resoluteness makes possible the transformation of Being-with Others in an ethical direction.

The key to the first part of this thesis lies in the grammatical concept of the middle voice and its employment by Heidegger to overcome the subjectivism of modern metaphysics. After didscussing the criticisms of resoluteness, I will brief explication of the middle voice, followed by an account of Heidegger's reliance upon it in his philosophy. This account will be indebted to Theodore Kisiel's monumental work, The Genesis of Heidegger's Being and Time. The major part of this essay will be occupied by an interpretation of secs 54-60 of Being and Time, focusing on conscience as a mode of discourse. It will be shown that resoluteness, as understandingly heeding the call of conscience, amounts not to radical willfulness, but to becoming a willing participant in the c-vent of Dasein-ing into which one is thrown. I will conclude this essay by exploring one specific way in which resoluteness modifies Being-with Others, namely, the taking over of a guilt towards Others, which amounts to a fundamental recognition of the moral claims of individuals. In so doing, I hope to provide a rejoinder to a criticism voiced by Charles Sherover, and to point to the possibility of expanding Werner Marx's search for a non-metaphysical ethics into Being and Time.

My aim in this essay is not to beautify Heidegger's ideal of resoluteness in order to make his thought worthy of the epithet of "ethical." Rather, I hope to reveal the ethical possibilities built into this ideal. Furthermore, the issue is not one of merely setting the doxographical record straight, though Heidegger's text will be the predominant focus, as it should be. Heidegger frequently remarks that, as a thinker, he has no "doctrines" to be passed along through time, but only a path, with precious few signposts. To come to terms with this path, it is not enough to simply report on words in books; rather, one must follow one's own way onto the path in order to make ajudgment of it. …

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