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A challenge to the presumptions of Western philosophy

Tuesday, 2 Jul 2013

Martin Heidegger on Staff and Scrip, Dr John Dunn First posted on Saturday, 25 August 2012 at 17:25

Marx and Satre took liberalism to its utmost extent, both positing that the authentic self is to be found in conditions which facilitate a complete freedom of choice. These conditions are communism, perhaps better understood in its original Marxian intent if described as anarchism.

Only in conditions of complete freedom for the individual, thought both Marx andSatre, can the alienated subject be recovered and the historical process of individuation be completed, allowing the individual to emergefinally from the herd as a fully-rounded and fulfilled human being.

Yetthe pursuit of fulfilment supposedly made possible under such conditions cannot overcome the Kierkegaardian objection that the piling up of accomplishments would be merely a distraction from despair. It could never offer a life that is either honest in the face of death or God.

The pursuit of a fulfilled life would become a new fetish, afalse god to be worshipped by the free individual. It would be a thingapart from the individual, offering a goal to be attained, yet trappingthe individual in an ideology of success no less invidious than that which exists under capitalism. A dualistic distraction would emerge, a chasm separating the subjective self from the prospect of a fulfilled self. Firmly in the tradition of Plato and Descartes, the individual, the absolute subject would behold an absolute object which would have been abstracted out of the real world.

Commmunist freedom would be the very apotheosis of Platonism, a world in which everything is subordinated to the point of view of the individual in a subjectivism that first took flight in Renaissance Europe. It was here that the ideology of the individual as an absolute subject first began to take hold seriously. In this individualised way of thinking, the absolute subject beholds absolute objects that have been abstracted out of the real world. In this sense, objects are unworlded into an abstract spaceconditioned by mathematics. Perversely, this is best illustrated by Renaissance art and the rise of depth perspective, in which all images are subordinated to the point of view of a single individual who, therefore, determines all the properties of the phenomena within the frame. As a result, it is not an objective view of phenomena that is offered by the artist, but one that is highly subjective. Such was the individualised view of the wold that emerged in Renaissance art that, for the first time in history, artists felt able to sign their own works, claiming ownership, so to speak, over the phenomena depicted in their art.

The same perspective emerged in science, but with the self-deluding view that the subject’s beholding of the world was objective and the one and only way in which ‘reality’ could be seen and experienced. This standpoint of empiricism remains dominant in Western ideology and philosophy to this day. It is the subject in Western philosophy that dictates phenomena, that dictates to them how they shallbe.

Whereas Kierkegaard recognised that people were living livesin a falsely subjectivised reality, it was Martin Heidegger (pictured above) who wanted to turn the subject-object relationship upside down and put the autonomy on the objects. His philosophy sought to let things be, to let them manifest themselves, instead of making them conform to an a priori Dürer grid of transcendental mathematical presuppositions.

His method was to get rid of the concealments and distractions, the cliches and worn out forms of thinking. He would shift his analysis into the worldhood of the world and the everydayness of Dasein, the human mode of being in the world. It was in the life of Dasein that Heidegger sought to mark out authenticity and began to challenge the presumptions of Western philosophy.

John Dunn.

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