Re: das Man

On Fri, 19 May 1995, Christopher Rickey wrote:

>"Man" in german means "one" as in the third person impersonal singular
>pronoun. Just as in english, it refers to no determinate being; hence
>Heidegger refers to it as "niemand", nobody. It thus cannot refer to any
>particular group of people, nor can it receive determinations. "The
>They" is misleading because it gives an Orwellian dimension to it that is
>missing in the german. It is not "They" who are responsible, as if the
>world were under the thrall of some internationalist conspiracy or
>another, but no one. A very, very similar articulation can one find in
>certain writings of Karl Marx, who attributes quite a causal effect to
>something called capital - NOT capitalists - but capital. The problem
>with capital is that it controls everyone without regard to the human
>good; in short, no one is in control. This is the very problem: if no
>one is in control, how do we get control? Marx: proletariat revolution.
>Heidegger: ?.
>As for Dreyfus' interpretation, I simply don't see this positive value to
>das Man because I don't equate das Man with the tradition.

True, translating 'das Man' as 'the they' is misleading because it
suggests that Heidegger is referring to some thing or things _vorhanden_.
But just what _is_ das Man? What is its ontological status? This question
seems warranted, for Heidegger tells us that das Man has "ways of
Being"--"Distantiality, averageness, and levelling down, as ways of Being
for the "they", constitute waht we know as 'publicness'"(SZ 127:BT 165).
Again, das Man is not something _vorhanden_, yet it is interesting
to note that for Heidegger just as the _vorhanden_ has a certain
"constancy" so too does Dasein in its everydayness. This "constancy",
according to Heidegger, "lies" in the "characters of Being" that he has
"exhibited" with regard to das Man (SZ 128;BT 166). Indeed, das Man is the
""who" of everyday Dasein" (Ibid.) It is the "'Realest subject' of
everydayness" (Ibid.)
Heidegger is at great pains to both affirm the being of das Man and
warn off the reader from trying to understand this being in terms of
traditional ontology (128-29;166-67). The situation here resembles that
which confronts the theorist who tries to determine the ontological status
of those "entities" we call "cultures". Just as das Man is "not the sum
of...all" people (126;164), so too a culture not the sum of its people. But
neither is a culture reducible to the practices or formal structures that a
theorist might abstract from it, for a culture both persists and changes
_through people_. Of course, one can for the sake of theory treat a culture
as if it were merely a set of practices, but this doesn't address the issue
of its ontological status.
Speaking of culture, it seems to me that in giving his account of
das Man Heidegger is at least partly attempting to give an account of some
of the features of the transindividual character of human existence that
are customarily accounted for through the concept of a culture. Note, for

If Dasein is familiar with itself as they-self, this means at the same time
that the "they" itself precribes that way of interpreting the world and
Being-in-the-world which lies closest. Dasein is for the sake of the "they"
in an everyday manner, _and the "they" itself Articulates the referential
context of significance_" (129;167-my emphasis)

Allow me to change direction by asking some questions: If das Man
is an existentiale does this mean that its "characters of Being"--i.e.,
"everyday Being-among-one-another, distantiality, averageness, levelling
down, publicness,the disburdening of one's Being, and accommodation"--are
exhibited in all cultural-historical formations? Is this what Heidegger is
claiming? If not, then why doesn't he make it clear that his account of das
Man refers only to particular formations? To be sure, he does tell us that
"[t]he extent to which its dominion becomes compelling and and explicit may
change in the course of history" (Ibid.). But this statement concerns the
_character_ of its dominion, not its presence or absence. (And what does he
mean by "compelling" here?)
Let us suppose that Heidegger's account of das Man is a
particularization, one that reflects his view of society in Germany, and
Europe as a whole, during the early part of this century. Now let us also
suppose that the negativity that is a consequence of his particularizing
could be purged from Heidegger's account. What effect would this have on
his account of authenticity? Is his account of authenticity compelling and
convincing primarily because it stands in sharp contrast with the
"characters of Being" of das Man? For example, if das Man were not a
complex of "characters of Being" which necessarily compel Dasein to turn
away from death, but instead a complex which could lead Dasein to come to
terms with death--in this case, death as both an individual AND social
phenomenon--then wouldn't Heidegger find it difficult to maintain his
pivotal distinction between the everyday and the existential conceptions of
death? Again, is Heidegger's account of the everyday conception of death
universally applicable, or are there exceptions--e.g., cultural formations
that incorporate BOTH the everyday (in a positive sense) and the
existential conceptions?


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