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Heidegger - passive or active?

Tuesday, 7 Apr 2020

Heidegger on Dr John Dunn. Heidegger - passive or active?


Martin Heidegger was against the humanism that emerged in Western philosophy with Plato, to reach its apogee with Nietzsche’s will to power.

Heidegger sought instead a connection with the reality of being that was not constrained by mind-constructed Platonic forms.

Instead of this imposition of presupposed forms, the human mind for Heidegger has a passive role, being rather an apparatus for the emergence of being. Heidegger’s beautiful metaphor for the mind's passive facilitation of being's emergence is the clearing in the wood, the sunlit space across which being passes from the surrounding darkness of the trees. The resultant emergence of being is described by Heidegger as Aletheia, the Greek word for the state of not being hidden, unhiddenness or, to put it positively, the state of being.

Being open to the emergence of being is closely bound up with Heidegger's notion of living authentically.


Heidegger’s anti-humanism challenges the principle of philosophical idealism which asserts that the human mind (spirit, reason, will), is the ultimatefoundation of all reality, or even exhaustive of reality, and, although the existence of something independent of the mind might beconceded, everything that we can know about thismind-independent “reality” is held to be so permeated bythe creative, formative, or constructive activities of the human mind, that all claims to knowledge must be considered,in some sense, to be a form of self-knowledge


Personalism is the opposite of emanationism, which views the person as a mode of emanation of the originatory One. Emanationism continues today in New Ageism, ecologism and various politico-philosophical forms of one worldism or globalism.

Emanationism grew out of the concept of The One in Platonic and neo-Platonic thought, as well as the Judaic Kabbalah, which was derived from Platonism as far as the ineffable Oneness of the beginning of things is concerned. 

As emanation begins with pure being and concludes with the real world, it usually postulates a hierarchy of being, (the Tree of Life in Jewish Kabbalah being one illustration of this belief).

The initiate is one who starts on the path of knowing or gnosis… climbing the hierarchical branches until he reaches the pure originatory being - and thus subsumption into the One, which is tantamount the suicide of the self.

On the one hand...

Heidegger is closer to emanationism than to idealism and thus, rather surprisingly, to Platonism and Judaic mysticism. After all, he believed that being is not constituted by consciousness, but will emerge into the clearing vacated by form-constructing consciousness, which is effectively the suicide of the self.

There is a magical element to Heidegger’s clearing metaphor that relates to emanationism.

 As emanation begins with pure being and concludes with the material world, it usually postulates a hierarchy of being, with those beings closer to the source considered increasingly pure and undefiled by the world. This is the basis for Magic, the belief that one can influence the processes behind the physical world by using occult knowledge to communicate with higher levels of being.

Heidegger’s clearing into which emerge being or beings is opened up by not just anyone, but by an authentic human being. To see beyond the superficial appearances may be considered as the acquired facility of a higher initiate. From where will the gnosis come? ‘Only a god can save us’ had exclaimed Heidegger in the famous Der Spiegel interview of 1966

On the other hand...

Heidegger stresses the notion that the individual is thrown into this world, with all the banality of social conventions and worse that are not of our choosing. This matrix not chosen need not be utterly binding or deterministic, which leaves an alienation against which human beings can struggle and find an opening for freedom.

Such a view needs the ‘other’ against which to struggle. The ‘other’ are the formulators of the matrix into which we are thrown. To struggle successfully against the ‘other’ is to open a clearing, a chink in the matrix, through which we will see.

In this scenario, the hero is the person who struggles against the ‘other’. In a sense this connects with idealism, i.e. the active assertion of creative consciousness, against a background where the passive acceptance of the matrix into which one is thrown is the norm. Thus, Heidegger’s politico-philosophy might be described as authentic idealism.

A question arises from the two ways of understanding Heidegger, which is - does the human mind receive the world as given, i.e. by allowing being to emerge into the clearing, or does it reject the given, finding being instead in an active assertion of authentic consciousness? The latter might be considered to be a prerequisite of the former, pointing toward the reconciliation between the passive and active elements found in Heidegger's philosophy as something worth pursuing.

© John Dunn.

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