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Authentic personalism

Tuesday, 7 Apr 2020

Heidegger on Dr John Dunn. 1

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

Rather than this imposition of presupposed forms, the human mind has a passive role and becomes an apparatus for the emergence of being. Heidegger’s beautiful metaphor for this passive facilitation is the clearing in the wood into which being emerges. 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.

This openness to the emergence of being is closely bound up with the notion of living authentically.


Heidegger’s anti-humanism is the polar opposite of the politico-philosophical position of personalism, which asserts that the real is the personal, i.e., that the basic features of personality - consciousness, free self-determination, directedness toward ends, self-identity through time, and value retentiveness - make it the pattern of all reality.

Personalists are idealists, believing that reality and its sense is constituted by consciousness


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, or the suicide of the self.

Just some ponderings.

On the face of it, Heidegger is closer to emanationism than to personalism 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, or 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’ exclaimed Heidegger.

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’. This connects with personalism. Thus, Heidegger’s politico-philosophy might be described as authentic personalism.

© John Dunn.

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