Re: "Letter on Humanism"--Readings 6 & 7

Earlier in the "Letter on Humanism" we found that Heidegger's problem
with "humanisms" is that insofar as they are rooted in metaphysics, they
do not uncover the dignity of human beings. In Reading 6, this is
restated: "Metaphysics closes itself to the simple fact that man
essentially occurs only in his essence, where he is claimed by Being"
(1977, 204). Here, we see why humanism cannot reach the dignity of human
beings, namely, because metaphyiscs is unaware of or "forgets" the human
beings relation to Being. It is a closure to Being. The essence of man is
further intimated in the passages immediately following, "Only from that
claim "has" he found that wherein his essence dwells. Only from this
dwelling "has" he "language" as the home that preserves the ecstatic for
his essnce. Such standing in the lighting of Being I call the ek-sistence
of man" (1977, 204).

Man is the being who projects itself toward Being (that being who in its
Being has its Being as an issue for it). Heidegger contrasts him to other
animals who "are as they are without standing outside their Being" (1977,
206). Only by virtue of standing outside Being can the human being
reappropriate Being and make it his own. Indeed, this projection is the
"ground of the possibility of reason, _ratio_" (1977, 204) among other

However, Heidegger cautions us from seeing this projection merely as a
"representational" positing; it is not the drive to represent or to know,
though it is its condition. He writes, "If we understand what _Being and
Time_ calls "projection" as a representational positing, we take it to be
an achievement of subjectivity and do not think it in the wonly way the
"understanding of Being" in the context of the "existential analysis" of
"being-in-the-world" can be thought--namely as the ecstatic relation to
the lighting of Being" (1977, 207). Thus, man is more than Nietzsche's
"Will to Power" which "stamps becoming with the character of being". To
be sure, representing is one of the modes in which a human being dwells,
but it is more than this. It is an ecstatic standing out from Being that
allows Dasein to project itself back towards its Being, thereby bringing
Being to light, or making it apparent.

More than living within metaphysics, Dasein is the being who participates
in the process of constructing metaphyiscs. By definition this
constructing which begins with ecstatic projection in and from Being is
not metaphysics, for metaphysics will arrive when the process of building
is complete. What is needed here is a way of treating metaphysics as
transcendence, as a verb, and not a noun. Dasein metaphysicalizes, that
is, out of the primordial condition of standing within the lighting of
Being, Dasein separates beings from Being thereby building a world. If
a metaphysics is a worldview, then it is the result of this building,
this transcending from the realm of entities to the realm of Being, and
returning back again only to forget what was revealed in the exposure to

Levinas tries to recapture this transcendent moment that initiates the
metaphysical enterprise, "'The true life is absent.' But we are in the
world. Metaphysics arises and is maintained in this alibi. It is turned
toward the 'elsewhere' and the 'otherwise' and the 'other.' For in the
most general form it has assumed in the history of thought it appears as
a movement going forth from a world that is familiar to us, whatever be
the yet unknown lands that bound it or that hides it from view, from an
"at home" which we inhabit, toward an alien outside-of-oneself, toward a
yonder" (Totality and Infinity 33). Under this definition, Heidegger's
project itself is metaphysical, not because it returns with a system of
entities, but because it departs from the self, toward Being, outward.
But one must wonder that in this transcendent moment, Heidegger actually
carries his act of transcendence far enough. Does he himself remain true
to his distruction of subject and object, that allows him, in turn, to
pale persons into things. "...the personal no less than the objective
misses and misconstrues the essential unfolding of ek-sistence in the
history of Being" (1977, 207).

I am amazed, for instance, with the swiftness with which Heidegger
secures an essence (which is not supposed to be "essence" opposed to
existence in the traditional categories of metaphysics) for man that is
ascertainable on the basis of what he (Heidegger) knows of himself.
Ek-sistence is the essence of man. But then what is man? This standing
out from Being that allows for Being to be appropriated. But to whom does
this predicate apply? Certainly, it can't apply to persons or things.
Heidegger claims to have escaped subjectivity in this analysis, but he
seems to end with predicates that apply to no subjects, not even himself.
Is he not simply hiding the fact that in speaking of the essence of man,
he is speaking for all men? Does disolving the essence/existence or
subject/object distinction really mean that all men become anonymous?
After all, Heidegger talks about man, not subjects, not things, not
persons, and yet, each becomes interchangeable with the others, myself

Dasein in Heidegger is not yet being-"there." It is no where precisely
because it is indestinguishable from the others. Being levels out the
difference between self and other. In another context, Levinas notes that
this becomes the essence of violence and, if it is also the essence of
man, then that is because man is violent. He needs to be justified.
Speaking to a particular passage from the Talmud, Levinas notes that
denying the difference between "day and night, between outside and
inside" places us in the grip of violence. "Violence is no longer a
political phenomenon of war and peace, beyond all morality. It is the
abyss of Auschwitz or the world at war. A world which has lost its "very
worldliness." It is the twentieth century" (Damages Due to Fire, 191).
The neutrality of Being does situates us beyond the distinction between
subject and object, and person and thing. But is it really "good" for man
to dwell *here*. Heidegger writes, "man occurs essentially in such a way
that he is the "there" [das da], that is, the lighting of Being." Who
dwells here? Man. What is Man? The dwelling here? "The 'Being" of the
*Da*, and only it, has the fundamental character of ek-sistence, that is,
of an ecstatic inherence in the truth of Being" (1977, 205). To be "man"
is to occupy a place in Being that is no place at all. To be sure, man
must be individuated prior to his ability to stand within Being.
Subjectivity must then pre-exist its destruction in _Being and Time_.

I become a self (not Descartes _ego cogito_), but subjectivity as the
taking up of a place. Levinas writes, "In the face of the other man I am
inescapeably responsible and consequently the unique and chosen one"
(Ethics as First Philosophy 84). I am the non-interchangeable. He goes
on, "The ego is the very crisis of being, not because the sense of this
verb might still need to be understood in its semantic secret and might
call on the powers of ontology, but because I begin to ask myself if my
being is justified, if the *Da* of my *Dasein* is not already the
usurpation of somebody else's place" (Ethics as First Philosophy 85).

Deconstructing subjectivity should not end in an imperial domain of Being
that leaves all men anonymous. It should not show that my
being-toward-death gives rise to the appropriation of my Being for
myself. Prior to this is the condition under which I take up a place at
all, my confrontation with the Other, and prior to my death is the death
of the Other, because of which I recognize my own mortality. "...humanity
in me--that is, humanity as me--signifies in spite of its ontological
contingence of finitude and mortality, the anteriority and uniqueness of
the non-interchangeable" (Ethics as First Philosophy 84). This is not a
statement of a "humanism," but the realization that subjectivity is born
responsible. This and not my metaphysical projection toward my Being
signifies the metaphysical condition of all humanisms. There is nothing
humane about Being, if it denies the distinction between persons and
things, thereby defacing human beings and leaving all men anonymous.
Could it be that Being, per and simple, is the origins of evil? Could it
be that the world that it brings forth is created in need of a redeemer?
Perhaps it is time once again to begin to rethink the fall of humanity as
the essence of humanism. To be human is to be implicated in the death of
the Other.


Citation to Levinas were taken from:

Levinas, Emmanuel. _Nine Talmudic Readings_. Trans. Aronowicz.
Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1990.

_The Levinas Reader_. Ed. Sean Hand. Cambridge, Mass.: Basil Blackwell,

Anthony F. Beavers, Ph.D. / Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Religion
The University of Evansville / Evansville, Indiana 47722 / (812)479-2682
Metaethics, Metaphysics, Existentialism, and the Judeo-Christian Tradition
Visit the Academy of Human Arts and Sciences

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