" His [Heidegger's] aim [in Being and Time] was to study the internal relationship between being and time. Because being and time, presencing and absencing, mainifestness and nothingness lack any phenomenal or empirical properties, they seem to be 'nothing' in the merely negative sense of an 'empty vapor' (Nietzche). For Heidegger, however, presencing and absencing 'are'that which is most worthy of thinking.
What evidence, we might ask, is there for the claim that humans are really this temporal nothingness through which entities can manifest themselves and thus 'be'? To answer this question, Heidegger appealed in part to an argument taken from Kant: the best way of accounting for the possibility of our understanding of entities is to postulate that we humans simply are the temporal openness or nothingness in which entities can appear as entities. In addition to such an argument, however, Heidegger maintained that the mood of anxiety reveals the nothingness lying at the heart of human existence. While contending that anxiety is perhaps the most basic human mood, he also observed that it is such a disquieting mood that we spend most of our lives trying to keep it from overtaking us. Our unreflective absorption in the practices of everyday life — family relations, schooling, job activities, entertainment — keep us distracted enough that we manage to conceal from ourselves the weirdness of being human. Anxiety tears us out of everyday absorption in things; it reveals them to be useless in the face of the radical mortality, finitude, and nothingness at the heart of human existence.
Why is human existence weird? Because humans are not things, but the clearing in which things appear. Although we are not fixed things we define ourselves as if we were simply a more complex version of the things we encounter in the world: rational animals. Ordinarily, we identify ourselves with our thoughts, beliefs, feelings, attitudes, memories, bodies, material possessions, and so on. Such identification gives us a sense of stability and permanence, which covers up the essential groundlessness and emptiness of human existence. There is no ultimate 'reason' for our doing what we want to do. We have to postulate our own reasons for doing what we do; we invent our own identities, although those identities to a great extent are determined in advance by social practices and norms that have evolved historically. Moreover, as groundless nothingness, humans are essentially dependent and receptive, finite and moral. The mood of anxiety is so disturbing because it reveals that 'at the bottom' we are nothingness, that our existence is ultimately groundless, and that we are essentially finite and moral. In the face of such disclosures, little wonder that most people flee from the mood of anxiety.
Early Heidegger claimed, however, that if we submit resolutely to what the mood of anxiety wants to reveal to us, we become authentic (eigentlich) in the sense of 'owning' our mortal existence. As authentic, we assume responsibility for being the mortal openness authentic, we assume responsibility for being the mortal openness that we already are. Assuming such responsibility is essential to human freedom. Instead of existing in a constricted manner — as egos with firm identities — we allow the temporal openness that we are to expand. This expansion allows things and other humans to manifest themselves in more complete, complete, and novel ways, rather than as mere objects or instruments for our ends. Conversely, by fleeing from anxiety into everyday practices and distractions, we conceal the truth about our own mortal nothingness and are thus incapable of allowing things to manifest themselves primordially" (Guignon 1993:244-245).
Guignon, Charles, ed.
1993 The Cambridge Companion to Heidegger. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
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