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HEIDEGGER: PROBLEM AND BACKGROUND OF EXISTENTIALISM BY KARL LOWITH Die Heimatlosigkeit wirdein Weltschicksal . Darumistes nรถtig,dieses Geschick zu denkseingeschichtlich en.- Martin Heidegger havenotyetbeen translated. X he basicworksofexistentialism knownaboutthesubjectis derivedfrommany Whatis generally channelsand fromarticlesabout a new philosophy, secondary of thesources. butnotfroma knowledge of allegedly "nihilism," Moreover, playsucha rolein theselection politicalcircumstances literature and philosophy that of,and attention to,contemporary knowsmoreaboutJean-PaulSartre student theaverageAmerican than about Karl Jaspers,and more about Jaspersthan about ofwhomSartrewasa pupil. This sequencein MartinHeidegger forSartreis a is politically thedegreeoffamiliarity conditioned, and in resistance the who was Frenchman movement, engaged Jaspersa Germanwho for ten lonelyyearswas barredfrom who supported academicactivity by theNazis,whileHeidegger, NationalSocialismin 1933,neitherresistedthe regimesubsequentlynor was dismissedfromhis post duringits periodof domination. and Heideggerhavechanged ofJaspers Since1945thefortunes for time the has beingtheunenviabledisconsiderably.Jaspers oftheGermanacademic ofbeingplacedin thelimelight tinction into privacyand now retire had to has scene,whileHeidegger enjoysthe privilegeof beingsparedsuch exposureand public responsibility. I shall not enterhere into the discussionof Heidegger's and intricate "Nazism"norintothemorecomprehensive question


SOCIAL RESEARCH 346 of a philosopher'ssocial responsibilities.1Whatever one may think about these matters,the sequence derived frompolitical - Sartre,Jaspers,Heidegger- mustbe reversedwith circumstance regardto philosophicalpriorityand significance.For Heidegger's Sein und Zeit appeared in 1927 (Halle), Jaspers'Philosophie in 1932 (Berlin), and Sartre'sL'ĂŠtre et le nĂŠant in 1943 (Paris). Sartre is Heidegger's most original and creative pupil; Jaspers and Heidegger worked out their respectivephilosophies independentlyand simultaneouslyin their lecture courses afterthe firstworld war. All threeof them exert an influencethat can hardlybe overestimated.In spiteof the manyattackson existentialism,inside and outside Germany,before and after Hitler, existentialismholds its own and for the past twentyyears has colored every Continentaldiscussion in philosophyas well as theology. It is thephilosophywhichseemsto expressin Germany, France,and Italy the real problemsand issues of our historical situation. The onlypowerfulcompetitionexistentialism has met so farcomes not fromotheracademic schoolsof philosophybut fromthe Catholic churchand fromMarxism. I ventureto say, and I shall presentlytryto substantiatemythesis,thatthe fashion of existentialism is indeed more than a fashion,forit is shaping, with ultimate logic, the basic mood of modern man's worldly someconsciously,somewillyexistence. We are all existentialists, nilly,and some withoutknowingit, because we are all more or lesscaughtin the predicamentof being ' 'modern"by livingin an epoch of dissolutionof formerbeliefsand certainties. Even those who have neverread a line of Heidegger,Jaspers,or Sartreare so familiarwith such typicalcategoriesof existentialphilosophyas * 'contingency"and "finiteness"of our existence,"anxiety" and "care" and all thatwhichJasperscalls "extremesituations,"that theycan hardlyimaginea normalcyapart frommediocrity. to say exactlywhat this "modernity" And yetit is verydifficult 1 See my article, "Les Implications politiques de la philosophie de l'existence chez Heidegger," in Les Temps modernes (November 1946) , and the critical response to my thesisin the issue of July 1947.


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347 thatBalzacwas is and whenit beganto appear. Goethethought in his novels"the abominablymodernand "ultra,"presenting ugly,thehideousanddepraved"insteadofthewholesome.Baudelaire thoughtthatFlaubert'sMadame Bovarywas "profoundly thatimpressionism was termodern."Our grandfathers thought Van was modern and our fathers that ultramodern. Gogh ribly Now, forus, the humancomedyof Balzac has becomerather withthe humanhell in Dostoevski's antiquatedin comparison us as novels;poorMadameBovary's problemno longerimpresses is surpassed modern;impressionism byexpressionism, profoundly and Van Gogh'spaintingsare realisticcomparedwiththoseof ofwhata generation feels surrealists. Butin spiteoftherelativity all thesewriters and artistsstillhavesomething to be "modern," themsharplyfroma seventeenthin commonthatdistinguishes man. Theyareall,to use Goethe'sphrase,ultra,beyond, century in theirworksa humancosor "ecstatic."Theydo notrepresent of an uncertainframeof reference.Perhaps mosbut fragments one could say thatmodernity beginswiththe dissolutionof a naturaland socialorderin whichman was supposedto have a natureand place,whilemodernman "exists,"displaced definite and out of place,in extremesituationson the edge of chaos. fromwhatwas is therefore vastlydifferent modernity Present-day withregardto debatedunderthistitlein theseventeenth century the relativemeritsof the "modernsand ancients." The comwithworksof parisonwiththeancientclassicswas a comparison thesamekind. Milton,forexample,was comparedwithVirgil, whichcame of age CorneillewithSophocles.2Our modernity, is not of the nineteenth revolution withtheindustrial century, it has because before has with what changedthe gone comparable ofcomparison.Hence themanyprognostications verystandards of Europeanlife and of a decisivechangein the constitution century,by men like Goethe, thoughtduringthe nineteenth and many Marx,Nietzsche, Baudelaire,Proudhon,Kierkegaard, 2 See W. Barrett,What is Existentialism?, PartisanReviewSeries11 (New York 1947) P- 54-


SOCIAL RESEARCH 348 minor figures. This change has eventuallyfound its precise philosophicalexpressionin the term"existence"and its altered relationto "essence." To elucidatethe probleminvolvedin, and the backgroundbehind, those two concepts we shall have to explain, first,Heidegger'sconcept of existence;second, the relation betweenessence and existencein the thoughtof Aristotle, Thomas, and Hegel; and third, the reaction against Hegel's philosophyof essentialexistenceby Schelling,Kierkegaard,and Marx. Heidegger'sConcept of Existence We shall confinethe discussionof existentialismto Heidegger's conceptof existenceas presentedin Sein und Zeit,3passingover Jaspers' philosophy because Heidegger is more modern and radical. He is more radical because his analysisof Being within the horizonof Time does not, like the "elucidationof existence" by Jaspers,presuppose,and then relativize,the objective knowledge ofpositivescienceand aim at a traditionalthoughrelativized ofobjectivetranscendence.Accordingly, Heidegger's metaphysics existentialintroductionto the interpretationof Being as such presentsan unbrokenunityof thought,startingfromthe fundamentalanalysisof man's existence,while Jaspers'philosophyconsistsof three parts: (1) orientationin the objective world; (2) appeal to existence; (3) searchfortranscendence.The two latter conceptsreflectthe traditionalideas of a human "soul" and its relationto "God." What Heideggercalls "world," "existence,'1 of and "transcendence"are entirelydifferent.His interpretation underthephenomenon"world"does not presupposethescientific of for the scientific of the world, understanding Being, standing as applied to man and theworld,is philosophicallya problemand not a possible startingpoint. Likewise Heidegger rejects the whole enterpriseof "metaphysics"in the traditionalsense of this 3 Occasionally we shall also refer to Was ist Metaphysik? (Frankfurt-am-Main 1929), Vom Wesen des Grundes (Halle 1929), and Vom Wesen der Wahrheit (Frankfurt-am-Main1943) .


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word where it indicatessomethingeternal,infinite,perfect. man'sbeingin particular and Insteadhe proposesto understand Beingin generalwithinthehorizonof Time. WhatHeidegger of man'sfinite is boundup withthestructure callsmetaphysics in an entirely in theworld. It is metaphysics untradiexistence of finiteness."And tionalsense,namely,a "finitemetaphysics sinceHeideggerneitherstartswithpositivesciencenor aims at themiddleconceptof Jaspers'philosophy, positivemetaphysics, also hasa different "existence," meaningforhim. It is truethat humanexistenceas understood by Heideggeralso overstepsor "transcends" itself,but not towarda perfectBeing. Existence itselftowarditsownworld,and nothingelse. Heidegtranscends noteventhisis uncompromisingly existentialism "worldly," ger's withoutanypositiveor negativeconbutsimply worldly, worldly secularcernabouta beyond;and yetit is notat all a positivistic ism. In the lastanalysis,the religiouspositionsof Jaspersand inversed:the intellectualbackHeideggerare even strangely whohas a certainleaningtowardreligionand groundofJaspers, is positivescience,4 to liberal protestantism, a definiteaffinity Sartrehasdrawnatheisfromwhosephilosophy whileHeidegger, and stillretainsmuch was nurtured ticconclusions, by theology faith," moreof a religiouspathosthanJaspers'"philosophical in whichis no morethana lastecho of secularizedChristianity of their to with Germanidealism.Finally, styles thinking: regard of thetotality of ambition the retains embracing Hegelian Jaspers in is which a built up system possiblelevelsand attitudes.He and fluid finished, undulating. Heideggeris though principle cuttingthroughand diggingin, and the apodicticformof his ofan tensions dictionshoulddeceiveno one abouttheunresolved and stillmaturing unfinished conception. is a bareoutlineofHeidegger's The following conceptofexistence,leavingasidethemoreappealingand popularaspectsof his and suggestivethatis,all theconcreteness, plenitude, philosophy, 4 See J. Collins,"Philosophyof Existenceand PositiveReligion,"in Modern Schoolman(January1946) p. 89.


SOCIAL RESEARCH 350 nessof its phenomenologicalanalyses. I shall concentrateon the bare notion of existencein its relation to essence. Heidegger's startlingthesisis thatman's natureor essenceis nothingelse but "existence." What does thismean and imply? Heideggerbegins his greatworkwitha quotationfromPlato's Sophist:"Since,then, we are in a difficulty, please to tell us what you mean when you speak of being; fortherecan be no doubt thatyou always,from understoodyourown meaning,whereaswe once thought the first, thatwe understoodit, but now we are in a greatstrait." Out of that we are constantlyhandling and apparthis embarrassment ently understandingBeing, but are ignorant of its meaning, of beginning,as it were,fromscratch. Heideggermade the effort Several prejudiceswith regard to the notion of Being obstruct such an attempt. The chiefprejudice is that Being is the most general,abstract,and emptyof all notions. For thereis indeed nothingof whichwe do not predicatethatit "is." God, we say, is; the worldis; man is; values are; propositionsare true or false. of January,this is a classroomand this Today is the twenty-first is a lecture- and therewe are. In each of thesedifferent apprehensions of somethingwhich "is" we coapprehend vaguely a generalcharacterof Being as such. But thisgeneralcharacteris not the generalityof a genus under which more specificsortsof beings are subsumed. For Being, in its universaland abstract kindsof real or ideal beings. It is sense,surpassesall thedifferent not a particularthoughmoregeneralkind of somethingreal. It is undefinseemsratherto be nothing. Being as such,therefore, able by genusproximumand differentia specifica. The question, "What is Being?"or "What is themeaningof Is'?" seemsto be an impossibleand insolubleproblem,forthequestionalreadyimplies whatis asked for,namely,an "is." How and fromwherecan we thenapproachBeing as such? We can approachit only if pure Being, or Being as such,is in some way relatedto a concretebeing,thoughsurpassingit. Perhaps Being is not onlythemostgeneraland emptynotionbut also somethingquite individual. This is indeed the case. For there


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is amongall beingsa unique beingwhichalone can question Beingas suchand thusmakeontologypossible. A houseor a plantor an animalhasneverasked,"Whatis Being?" It is man alonewhocan ask suchan extravagant question. And whycan and does he ask so? Becausehe is an exceptional, fatallypriviin a term, or, Dasein,a beinglegedbeing, ontological Heidegger's there. He is in hisrealbeingan ontological being,thatis,a being of his own and everyotherconcretebeing capable transcending towardBeingas such. As a selfhe can relatehimselfto other in theworld,and to hisownbeingin it,and beings,toeverything therebysurpassall thesekindsof concretebeings. With the ofmanor Dasein amidstall otherbeingsthereoccurs emergence an "inroad"intothetotality of beings,whichopenstheviewon Beingas such. Man can surpassor transcend everyparticular about and ask as such because he is theonlybeing being Being is concernedwithhis being and is which,in his being-there, for its thereby possiblecomprehension. open factualityof our "being-there" the sheer we are not Despite a extant like nor stone, arewe determined (vorhanden), simply by an alienpurpose(zuhanden), likea hammer whichis whatit is as "tohammer with"andwhichonlymancan handle,for something thehammeritselfhas no selfand cannotenjoyitsown purpose. In distinction fromthesetwo otherwaysof being,the merely extantand thefunctional being,man has theprivilegeof being in sucha waythathe is thrust as a self,and yetowns uponhimself his own being. He can, therefore, also withdrawfromit, in suicideand sacrifice.Animalswhich are possessedby their naturalbeingcannottranscend it, neitherby takingpossession fromit. This kindof Beingor rather of it norbywithdrawing to-be,whichis peculiarto humanDasein- thatis,responsibility toone'sownbeing,without, however, forbeingbeingresponsible - Heideggercallsexistence.It is man'swayor mannerof there Existenceis,however, nota fixedqualitylikebeing being-there. tallor short. It is a constant possibility.We can existin thisor or in an individualor thatmanner, authentically unauthentically,


SOCIAL RESEARCH 352 in an averageway. However we choose to be, thesepossibilities remain inevitablyeach one's own possibilities. Man's Dasein, which chooses and pursuesone of his possibilitiesis always my personal or your personal existence,amidst and in spite of all sociality. In all his taking care of somethingand caring for others,man is ultimatelyconcernedwithhis own being and possibilities,whichrest,however,on the sheerfactof his being-there. As such a being he can reflectupon and ask about Being as such, and elaboratea philosophyofBeing,or ontology. Thus we can nowunderstandwhythemostabstract,impersonal, and generalquestion of ontologyis intimatelybound up with a most concrete,personal, and specificbeing. A philosophical analysisof Being can only be worked out on the basis of an existentialanalysisof man's being; it has to startfroma "fundamentalontology." It is true thatthe universalconceptof Being transcendseveryconcretebeing,but it cannot be graspedunless we reducetheontologicalproblemmethodicallyto man'sexistence as theultimatesourceand also end of theontologicalinterest. To answertheuniversalquestionof Beingwe have to concentratethis transcendent quest in a mostsingularbeing, namely,thatof the questioner. The claim of beginningwithoutany such presupas it were- is an illusorypretension. position- "standpointless," Afterthese preliminarystatementsHeidegger proceeds to a more detailed analysisof man's being. Man's being, which is concernedwithhis own being,has to-be- thatis, he mustbe; he to some otherbeing and get rid cannotsurrenderhis being-there of it. He is, rather,surrenderedor deliveredup to himself. He has, therefore,to bear, as long as he exists, the "burden" of existenceas an essentialcharacterof his being-there. If, says Heidegger,one can speakat all ofman'sessence,thenthisso-called essenceis implied in the factthat he has to-be; in other words, man's essencehas to be understoodfromhis existence. It mayor maynot be correctthatman is a rationalanimal (Aristotle)or an ens creatum (Thomas), a creaturein the theologicalsense,or a compound of spirit,soul, and body- whateverhis essence may


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353 existence. "The be, firstof all he is there,as a self-concerned Essenceof (man's)Dasein is his Existence." While essencerefers to the conceivablewhat I am, existencerefersto the factualthat I am and have-to-be.This thatprecedesin man's existencewhatever he is, biologically,psychologically, socially. Man's existenceimplies furtherthat he is in the world. But the "world" is not an externalsum totalof all extantbeings,nor is it a systemof merelyfunctionalbeings. It is a universaland yet existentialstructure. Man is not like a stone in the world but is essentiallyrelatinghimselfto "his" world. He is constitutingand "projecting"theworldinto whichhe is thrownand by whichhe is swayedand permeated. He is fromthe veryoutsetof the-world"is a his humanexistencea worldlyexistence."To-be-infundamental characterofman'sexistence. To have a worldmeans more than to behave within a given environment. It means, rather,to be open for the manifestationof Being as such by thatis, by being exposed to the totalityof being and "ek-sisting," havingto standsuch an exposed or "ecstatic"existence. Organic but does not and inorganicnatureis alive or lifeless,respectively, exist in the human dimensionof a self-and world-transcending existence. And theworlditselfis not a blind massof being but a wayor stateof being. "Cosmos" in Greek philosophymeans not simplyphysisbut a specificconstitutionof the naturalworld,an chaotictotalityof the orderlytotalityas distinctfroma disorderly, same beingswhich,as cosmos,are kata kosmon,cosmos-like.And thistotalstateofbeingis furtherrelatedto humanbeings;onlyto human beingswho are awake is the cosmosa "common" world, while in the state of sleep each individual has his own world. The emphasis on the relatedness of world to man became accentuatedin the Christianunderstandingof the world. For St. Paul cosmos is not primarilya cosmic state but directlya stateof man- humanityin the stateof alienationfromGod. In classicand Christian,cosmosor world transcends both traditions, the conceptof nature. Nature,saysHeidegger,cannot elucidate the ontologicalcharacterof world and of our being in it because


SOCIAL RESEARCH 354 natureis onlya kind of beingwithinour worldand we encounter it thereforewithinthe analysisof man's being-there. Thus the initial definitionof the fundamentalbeing whose essence is absorbedin existenceseemsto stand firm. As a pure factualityof worldlyexistence,man has no wisdom about his whenceand whither. For thisveryreason he feelsall the more intenselythe pure factof his being,the factualitythat he is, no matterhow much he may tryto surrenderhimselfto somebusynessin orderto evade the uneasyconsciousnessof being ultimatelynothingelse thana factualselfor existence. Heidegger calls thisfactualityof one's own existenceGeworfenheit, "beingthrown" into existence. No human Dasein has ever freely decided whetherit wants to come into existence. Hence, it is utterlyunintelligiblewhywe have to be. Out of thisexperience man makes many attemptsto throw himselfout of his being throwninto existenceby projectingthisand that. The ultimate project(Entwurf)which man can and ought to project is, however,the anticipationand appropriationof his death. For only by anticipatingand facingresolutelythe end of a still unfinished existencecan a human existencebecome "whole" and wholly intense. By anticipatingdeathas the finalend man acknowledges and ultimatenothingness. his finalfiniteness This nothingnessof our being-thereis revealed primarilyin indefiniteanxiety. Anxietyis distinctfromdefinitefear of this and that. It is concernednot withparticularobjectsin the world but withthewholeofour worldlybeing-there.In suchan anxiety, whichmayemergeon quite trivialoccasions,man suddenlyloses his customaryhold on the world. The whole of Being seems to driftaway into nothing. But this experienceof stretchingout is in itselfa positiveone, forit givesus the necesintonothingness sary backgroundagainst which we become aware of Being as such- of theamazingfact"thatthereis something"and not nothing, "the wonderof all wonders." Being open-mindedto thisanxietyand advancingfreelytoward the inevitableend is the highesttestof man's freedomfromcon-


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355 andat thesametimetoit. Justbecausefactualexistence tingency doesnotrestuponanything butitself, it is thefactualsourceofa radicalfreedom, ofthefreedom towillone'sownfiniteness and to assentto thatfundamental whichpervadesall Being nothingness forus. Radicalfreedom, thatis, freedomin regardto Beingas such,and notonlyfromcertainconditionsof life,is bound up withthemanifestation ofnothingness. This is, verybriefly and roughly,the outlineof Heidegger's to refute conceptofexistence.I thinkit wouldbe verydifficult on theso-called''nihilism"of existential theoretical as ontology, wellas moralgrounds, unlessone believesin manand worldas a - in creationofGod or in thecosmosas a divineand eternalorder otherwords,unlessone is not "modern." This does not mean ofexistentialism. is an invention thattheproblemofnothingness has Like "existence," the"nothing," too, alwaysbeena problem, contexts withessenceandwithbeing. butin verydifferent In Jewish-Christian theologythenothingis an absolutevoid. It is conceived as theemptyand powerless oppositeto theomnipotenceof God, who createsbeing out of nothing. In classic of being;it is thenothingis thenegativeborderline philosophy of not positivebut merelyabsenceof beingor, moreprecisely, modern existentialism In or nothingbeing-formedbeing-shaped. nessis notmerelyabsenceof,or contrastto, Beingbut belongs it is theontological conditoBeingas such. Moreover, essentially to reversetheclassical ventures tionoffreedom.Thus Heidegger saying,ex nihilonihilfit (out of nothingnothingcan emerge), intotheoppositethesis,ex nihiloomneens qua ens fit (out of - all being as such - thatis, frompossiblenothingness nothing becauseit endowsthe is anticlassic emerges).This proposition and it is anti-Christian nothingwith a creativesignificance, becauseit appliesthedoctrineof divinecreationout of nothing likemanthemeaning to a finiteexistence.Fora finiteexistence in faceofnothingness. the manifest becomes ofBeingas such only of Beingas of it revealstheamazingstrangeness The experience in stateof the such. On accountof thisexperienceof Being


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slippingaway the question can arise, "Why is thereanythingat all ratherthan nothing?" This quest foran ultimate"why" of Being as suchmotivatesalso all our secondaryquestionsabout the particularcauses or reasonsof thisand that. The logical evidenceof the traditionalpropositionthat "nothreason,"restson ing is withoutcause," the "principleof sufficient the translogicaifactthatman can ask about the "why"of his own and everybeing. The possibility, however,of asking"why"rests on the factthat man's existenceis not bound up with and containedin itselfbut is removedfromit. Man is a self-transcendent existencewhichhas a certainfreeplay and is therefore capable of in in instead of merely and thinking acting possibilities, projects, acceptinggiven realities. Hence we can ask: why this and not that;whythusand not otherwise;whyis thereanythingat all and not nothing? The possibilityof asking "whynot" refersto our freedomas the ultimategroundof these transcendingquestions. But thisfreedomhas a radical limitation. It is the freedomof a finitein itself. The contingentand finiteexistenceand therefore freedomof oversteppingor transcendingall particularkinds of being,whichenables us to ask "whynot" is, togetherwithman's existence,an enterpriseor "project"whichis thrustupon us. We are, as Sartre says, "condemned to freedom." The ultimate ground of our causal question, that is, our freedom,is in itself - or bottomless(Abgrund), incapable of grounding groundless freelyitself. All thisis certainlymodern,but neitherclassic nor Christian. Heidegger's Sein und Zeit leaves no doubt that Christianand Greekontologyare no longeracceptableto him. His whole work is intendedas an introductionto the "destruction"of the ontoof theoriginal logicaltradition,thatis,to a criticalre-examination foundationsand limitationsof the Greek and scholasticnotions of Being. The fundamentallimitationof Greek ontologyis, in regardto the problemof Being, that it understandsman's being and Being in generalin orientationto the world as cosmosand physis,and, in regardto the problemof Time, that it takes its


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357 fromwhatis presentand alwayspresentor eternal.5 orientation In otherwords,Greekthought hasno senseforman'sexceptional, "ecstatic"existence, and therefore no senseforthefutureas the human horizon of all primary projects. limitation ofmedievalontology is thatit has The fundamental takenover the resultsof Greekthoughtwithouttheiroriginal theminto the basic doctrineof motivations and transplanted all to which finitebeingis an ens creatumas creation, according basisman's opposedto God'sensincreatum.On thistheological himselftowardhis essentialexistenceconsistsin transcending towarda perfect and infinite creator.This idea of transcending becamedilutedand secularized.It pervades beingsubsequently ofGermanidealismand also thewholetranscendental philosophy semi-Christian existentialism. Jaspers' AgainstthiswholedecayingtraditionHeideggerventuredto to anewtheproblemofBeing. He nowherepretends re-examine in thelastparagraph of Sein und havesolvedit,sayingexplicitly Zeit thatitsonlypurposeis to kindlethequestionand to bring intomotionwhathasbecomestalemated.He concludeshiswork notwitha ready-made answerbutwitha seriesofopenquestions, andhe is stillon theway- awayfromtheinitialpathosofresolute whichis thestrength This "being-on-the-way," "existentialism"! of modern and honestybut also the weaknessand hypocrisy towarda definite is nota Christian goalbut, thinking, pilgrimage where wanthe as withNietzsche,an adventurous wandering theadvendereris afraidbutalso proudofnotknowingwhither him. lead turemight and radicality of Heidegger'senterIn viewof theearnestness prise,it was a strangemistakewhenin the twentiesthosewho dislikedexistentialism thoughtthattheycould dismissit as a of inflation."But eventwenty yearsafterthe pub"philosophy licationofSein undZeitone couldstillreadin an articlein the 5 See Helene Weiss,"The GreekConceptions of Time and Being in the Lightof in Philosophyand Phenomenological Research(December Heidegger'sPhilosophy," 1941) pp. 173 if.


SOCIAL RESEARCH 358 New York Times (July 6, 1947) the followingdefinitionof existentialism:"It was inventedby a Nazi, Heidegger; it is a philosophyof nihilismlike Nazism,appropriateto the vacuityof German life." Unfortunately, for this definition,existentialism was inventedduring the Weimar Republic (which offeredHeideggera chair at Berlin University)when the vacuityof German intellectuallife was still prettywell filled by a host of other philosophiesof "life," "culture," and "values." Existentialism has outlived not only the Weimar Republic but also the Third Reich. It has evengainedascendancyand has itsstrongest support now in France,theclassicalcountryofCartesianrationalism. The German postwarclimate afterthe firstworld war did perhaps stimulate,but it could not cause, the rise of existentialism,the germof whichwas plantedlong ago. The Relation betweenEssence and Existencein the Thought of Aristotle,Thomas, and Hegel innovationin the of the existentialist To estimatethesignificance withtherelation it to contrast of one has existence understanding betweenessenceand existencein the philosophicaltradition. In some way existencehas always been a fundamentalproblem in man's thoughtabout Being. The real issue is not the birthof an entirelynew problem but a new way of posing the same old problem within a differentcontext. What is new in modern existentialismis that the traditionalreferenceof existence to essence is replaced by the absorptionof essence into existence. Aristotle,in Book VI of his Metaphysics,discussesthe several meaningsofBeing. All sciences,he says,markoffsome particular realm of being withoutinquiring into Being simplyas Being. For example,the scienceof buildingpresupposesthe existenceof certain building materialswithoutinquiring into the creativity that bringsa building, throughthe mind of an architect,into existence. Metaphysics, however,seeksthe principlesand causes of all beings "in so faras theyare or exist,"while sciencestake existenceforgranted. They also neglectthe inquiryinto thecon-


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359 ceivableessenceof theirparticularrealmsof being. So far, Aristotle soundsmuchlikeHeidegger, seems or,rather, Heidegger tohaverestated Aristotle.But thenAristotle goeson to saythat and essenceare onlytwoaspectsof "one theneglectofexistence and thesameomission"and that"the one goes alongwiththe other"for,he says,theinquiryintowhatsomething is (itsessence) alsodecidesifit is (itsexistence).Essenceand existence areboth manifest to "thesamekindofthinking." Thesefewsentences ofclassicontology. indicatethelimitation in spiteof his emphasison Beingas; They showthatAristotle, is not concerned with thesheerfactuality of existenceim Being, in particular,, ofhumanexistence generalor withthecontingency with but essentialexistence, because"whatness" and "thatness'* areinseparable andneither the It is truethatover other. precedes assertsthatthe ousia or essence againstPlato's"idea," Aristotle butjustbecausehe definesit in oppositionto is a realsubstance, and in PlatohisownconceptofBeingis thatofbeing-something, whichhas the reason itsfullsenseit is the beingof something Aristotle or groundof itsbeingin itself.Accordingly explicitly whatever is byaccidentorchance. excludesfromhisconsiderations For, he argues,an accidentalor inessentialexistencecannot becomethesubjectof a rationalscience. Accidentsare innuma he says,"is practically erableand incalculable;thefortuitous, he pointsout thata spacious merename." As an illustration, fora largeand richfamilybut inconhousemaybe comfortable accidental venientfora smalland poorfamily.This is,however, shows to the essentialcharacterof a house. This illustration not the in mind is has Aristotle which "accidental" that the again as such,but onlythe ofa wholeexistence principalaccidentality whichalready to that occur accident something may particular he concludes,is either existsessentially.All seriousphilosophy, forthemostpartand it at least or what ofthatwhichis always is, as a rule. theexistenofAristotle's Withinthissoundlimitation thought at all ratherthannothtialistquestion,"Whyis thereanything


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ing?" and the correspondingemphasison the contingencyand ofexistencecould notemerge. It could not,not because factuality Aristotlewas a modern positivistbut because he was a Greek thinkerfor whom existenceas such- that there is something was an unquestionable element within the essential structure, order,and beautyof an alwaysexistingcosmoswithoutbeginning and end, includingthe existenceof rationalanimals called men. They are distinguishedfromother beings not by the irrational freedomofsheerwillingand projecting,but by thefreedomofdisinterestedcontemplation. The highestdistinctionof man is that he is capable of contemplatingthisperfecthierarchyof an imperishable universewithinwhicheach being has its definiteproperties,place, and degree of perfection. For Aristotlethe ultimate - not, however, source of philosophicalresearchis *'amazement" of Being as such but about the hidden about thestrangefactuality principlesof the orderlychangesin the visibleuniverse. The Aristotelianview of the worldwas takenover by Thomas, but with some importantmodifications.6For Thomas, as a Christian theologian and believer, all being is primarilyens creatum,broughtinto existenceout of nothingby the absolutely withinChristian creator. Accordingly, freewill ofa transcendent definite has a of existence the priorityto thatof thought concept ' or,rather, essence,and to thatextentThomas is an 'existentialist" existentialismis derived fromChristianthinking. Its quest for an ultimatewhyof existenceas such,as expressedin Heidegger's question,"Whyis thereanythingat all ratherthannothing?"was not askedby Greekphilosophy,but is implicitin thestoryof creation and explicitin existentialism, thoughapart fromcreation. betweenens or a being and esse or to-be, Thomas distinguishes the lattermeaningthe act of existence. To accentuateexistence he speaksof ipsum esse, of the veryexistenceof a being. This esse or to-beis the verb root of ens and essentia, of being and essence. An existingbeing is a quidditasor essence,in so faras it is conceivableand definablein regardto what it is. For every6 See E. Gilson,Le Thomism,5thed. (Paris 1945)pp. 42 ff.and 511 flf.


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361 thingis knownbywhatit is, itsessence. But of all createdsubstancesnothingis whatit is by itself(ens per se). OnlyGod is hisveryessence without a causebecausehe aloneexistsessentially; ofcreationAristotle's is to-be. Seenin thisChristian perspective analysisofthevariousreasonswhya certainbeingis whatit is is demonstrates ForwhatAristotle are onlytheinherinsufficient. of an existingsomething, but neitherdoes he ask entprinciples is at all. He is notradical,as norcan he answerwhysomething are. Priorto a formative Thomasand Heidegger principleis the Aristotle's formis not ofexistence as such. actualizing beginning ofexistence;it determines thefirst onlythecompletion principle one can only of a potentialexistence.On thelevelof Aristotle of into the existence something alreadyexisting.But the inquire ofBeingis ipsumesse,theveryto-be,and thisis for first principle Thomasnotonlya moststrange factuality (as it is forexistentialand perfect actuality.To-be is ism)butalso themostwonderful in ofperfection, accordance withthebiblical alreadyan indication all are as such and that created things good saying perfect, simply by beingendowedwithexistence.This is, of course,the very andyetcomesvery oppositeto themoodofmodernexistentialism close to it. For if we abstractfromGod as the onlyessential existentialism modernand Christian existence, agreein thisthat is notan essential all finiteexistence existence, existing necessarily category, byitself.For Thomas,too,existenceis an exceptional or The "what" essence. a undefinable knowledgeof what by fordemonstrating thatit is. is doesnotyieldanything something Thus existenceseemsto be entirelyadventitious, comingfrom outside,and hencewe mightconclude not onlywithmodern but also withtheAraband JewishAristotelians of existentialists centuries(Al-Farabi,Algazel,Avicenna, the tenthand twelfth 7 is a pureaccident. Thomasoften Maimonides) thatexistence themseverely and of their be to seems yethe criticizes opinion 7 See Emil L. Fackenheim, "The Possibility of the Universe in Al-Farabi, Ibn Sina and Maimonides," in Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research, vol. 16 (1946-47) .


SOCIAL RESEARCH 36s becauseto him thisapparentaccidentof existenceis the very heartofbeing. It appearsas an accidentonlyif one startsfrom essence,but if one startsfromthe whole existingbeing,then orderfromessence revealsitselfnotonlyas a different existence butalsoas a farsuperiororder,forwithoutit no ensand essence wouldbe. The factof existenceis forThomasthemost"intidetermiand "perfect," mate,""profound/' thoughundefinable, nationwhichincludesall therest. thesisthatexistence Thus theexistentialist precedesessencecan it is fromwhich,however, be tracedbackto Christianthinking is strictly separatedby thedoctrineof creation. Existentialism without creator.On theotherside,in theperspective creationism andunjustifiable ofcreation finite existence is notonlycontingent and finite butthecontingent emerges aspectofexistence byitself, toward a within a transcendent such necessary, only perspective and essentialbeing.8 infinite, in theformof the This idea ofan essentialexistence persisted fromAnselmto of for existence God the ontologicalargument it. Descartes, Spinoza,Leibnizand Wolff. Only Kantdestroyed from out" be in can existence no case that He argued "picked 8 Sartre, in L'Être et le néant (Paris 1943) pp. 653, 708, 713 ft.,717, 721, draws indeed the ultimate conclusions fromthe premisesof radical existentialismwhen he assertsthat the ideal of pure existence is to become- God! The pour-soi, he argues, of an en-soi. The is always its own deficiencyfor it lacks the solid self-sufficiency pour-soi emerges only through the appropriation and annihilation of an en-soi. But through this assimilating annihilation of an alien world en-sot the pour-soi projects itselftoward the ideal of becoming eventually an en-soi-pour-soi. In other words, the groundless freedomof projecting wants to transformitself into a being which is the ground or reason of itself,that is, it projects ultimately the idea of God as ens causa sui. But this idea and that project are, according to Sartre, an impossible project and idea. "The fundamental passion of man" is therefore"in vain" and thus it happens that men escape from the absolute and yet bottomless responsibilityof their chance-existence"into solitary drunkennessor to the leading of nations." It is true, Sartre says, that man can essentiallyask for a reason of his contingent existence but this quest implies the perspective toward an essential existence which is the reason of its own being. What man actually experiences is the constant and inevitable failure of his attempt to surrender his contingentand bottomless existence to something necessaryand grounded in itself. Compare H. Marcuse, "Remarks on J. P. Sartre'sL'Être et le néant," in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (March 1948) p. 315.


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essence.A realGod or onehundredrealdollarsand an imagined - thatis, God and one hundredimagineddollarsare essentially themis not as to whattheyare- thesame. Whatdistinguishes of existtheirconceivableessencebut thenonrational positivity encewhichis externalto essence. One maydoubt whetherKant'scriticismof the ontological But reallymeetsthepointofAnselm'sdemonstration. argument betweenexistence and essenceis validwithregard thedistinction to all finitebeings,since the difference betweenessenceand existenceis theverymarkof finitude, as was alreadyurgedby Thomas. AfterKantand againsthim theontologicalprooffor ofGod becamere-established theexistence byHegel,on thebasis in the of Christian of Aristotle, of service a though philosophy fromtheidentity or,rather, Hegelstarts religion.LikeAristotle, of factualexistenceand conceivableessence,of thetogetherness as did Aristotle, the Being and Thought,excludingtherefore, fromtheinterest ofmetaphysical thechance-existence accidental, science. He definesthereal as theresultof a dialectical''unity of the"inner"essenceand "external" of essenceand existence," existence.Beingswhichdo notattainto sucha congruence are, "casual" to existences "trivial," Hegel, "insignificant," according need not troubleitself. Having thus about whichphilosophy fromthe interestof knowledgeHegel excludedthe contingent extendshisdefinition ofrealityto all beingswhichhavea "true" or "real"existence in theemphaticsenseof thisword. There is, accordingto Hegel,no real existencewhichis not essentialand - neitherin naturenor in history thereis no reality necessary; whichis notreasonable, and no reasonwhichis notreal. Hence thatphilosophical reasoncan penetratethe his bold confidence wholeuniverse and makeit intelligible to us. This extension of theunityofreality and reason,ofbeingand thought, ofexistence and essence,to every"true"beingimpliesthatnothingin this worldis absolutelyfiniteand therebysplit into existenceand real participates, essence. Everything on different levels,in the theabsolute,thedivine. infinite,


SOCIAL RESEARCH 364 distinctionbetweencreated On thebasisof theJewish-Christian and uncreatedbeing,betweenthe finiteand the infinite,but with the conceptualmeansof Aristotle,Hegel overdidwhatwas sound in classicphilosophyand pervertedwhatwas genuinelyChristian. For the thesis of the structuralunity of essence and existence serveshim as a theodicy,as a justificationof God in the world of nature and history. What, accordingto Thomas and Christian theologyin general,is an ontologicalprivilegeof God namely,to have an essentialexistence is, accordingto Hegel's confusionof Aristotelianmetaphysicsand Christiantheology,valid for every being which can reasonablyand emphaticallybe said "to be." of an existing"logos" a the manifestation Realityis everywhere conceptin whichthe Greeknous is inextricablyconfoundedwith the logosof the New Testament. Opposed to this Hegelian "reconciliation" of conceivable essenceand factualexistence,of reason and reality,thoughtand being, there emerged in the 1840's the many-sidedattacks on Hegel's philosophyand on philosophy as such by Schelling, Kierkegaard,Feuerbach, and Marx. All of them were antiHegelians and, with the exception of Schelling, therefore Hegelians. They insisted,with differentaims and in opposite directions,on the factual,naked, "unforethinkable" positivityof sheerexistenceas opposedto Hegel's philosophyofrationalreality or essentialexistence. Schelling,Kierkegaard,and Marx When Schellingin his laterperioddistinguishedbetweenpositive and negativephilosophy,claiming the positive one for himself and accusingHegel of havingbeen negative,he meantthatreason can onlyreachthe ideal essenceof things,theirpossibilityor that whichcan be, but never any positive,that is, positivelyposited, existence. Hegel, he says,hypostatizedthe rational concept of whatsomethingis to a fake-existence, simulatingin his dialectical all livmovementsof thoughtthe real. He has thustransformed ing realityinto a "desertof Being." Rational philosophyis nega-


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tivewithregardto existencebecauserealitycannotbe anticipated by thought. It is "unforethinkable";it can be grasped only "empirically,"by metaphysicalempiricism. A truephilosophyof ofaccidentalexistence, realityhas to beginwiththepresupposition the geradezu Existierende,the ipsum esse of Thomas. Reality cannot be thoughtout; it comes into existence,and to reach a philosophicalunderstandingof it, it is firstof all necessaryto "tearoneselfaway"fromthe blind factof existence. "The whole worldis such an unforethinkable, blind existence." The pupils of Hegel who listenedto Schelling'sBerlin lectures in whichhe announcedhis programof a new age of philosophy, even of religion,wereas much impressedas the pupils of Husserl who listened,thirtyyears ago, in Freiburg to Heidegger and turnedawayfromHusserl'stheoryof epoche,of "bracketing"real existence in order to grasp the pure essence of things. In Schelling'saudience were Russian and German Hegelians, and society;amongthemwereKierkegaard,FriedrichEngels,Bakunin, and Jacob Burckhardt. Since most of the audience expected a revolutionarytendencythey were disappointedwhen Schelling developedhis scholasticdoctrineofPotenzen,aimingat a philosoand revelation. Schelling'slast academic activphyof mythology ity was the firstimportantstep toward a break with Hegel's reconciliationof reasonand reality,of essenceand existence,and a new beginningafter Hegel's conscious consummationof the "historyof the concept," that is, of the whole European philosophicaltradition. The mostimportantand influential"existentialists" among the next generationwere Kierkegaardand Marx. Neither of them directed the philosophicaltraditioninto new channels, as did Schelling,but they opposed, togetherwith Hegel's system,the metaphysicalenterpriseas such. If modernphilosophershave a bad consciencein the pursuitof theirtheoreticalprofession,9 it is mainlydue to Kierkegaard'sand Marx's radical criticismof phi9 See H. Arendt, "What is Existenz Philosophy?" in Partisan Review (Winter 1946) p. 40.


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losophyas such and to theirpracticaltendencies. We have lost Hegel's confidencethatrealitycannotresistthe powerof thought and concept. What Kierkegaardand Marx wereconcernedwithwas not disinterestedspeculationabout universalstructures, but individual and social practice,or, moreprecisely,ethicaland politicalaction withregardto the religiousand politicalconditionsof contemporary human existence. For Kierkegaard philosophy became reducedto thepsychological analysisof the innerstagesof life,for Marx to the social-economic analysisof the externalconditionsof Both production. emphasized,thoughin oppositedirections,the naked factof our personaland social existence. They understood the human world of the nineteenthcenturyas determinedby commoditiesand money (Marx), and the individualof thefindu siècle as permeatedby irony,boredom,and despair(Kierkegaard). Hegel's consummationof the historyof the spiritbecame forboth an end, preparatoryto an extensivesocial revolution and an intensivereligiousreformation, respectively. Hegel's "concrete mediations"turnedforboth into abstract"decisions,"eitherfor the old ChristianGod (Kierkegaard)or for a new social world (Marx). Hence a theoryof social practiceand a reflectionupon inner action replace Hegel's Aristotelianbelief in the supreme dignityof pure contemplation. Kierkegaardand Marx both turn Hegel's reconciliationof state with societyand church into a radical criticismof the capitalistworld and of secularizedChristogetherfromtwooppositeends the world tianity,thusdestroying of the Christianbourgeoisieof the nineteenthcentury. The philosophicalfoundationof theirradical criticismis to be found in their relation to Hegel's basic concept of reality as "unityof essenceand existence." Protestingagainstthe chapter on "Reality" in Hegel's Logic, Kierkegaard,like Schelling,contendsthatreal realityis inseparablefromthatwhichis by accident and thereforecannot be assimilatedand comprehendedby an ontologicallogic. The mostintimatecharacterofrealityis itscontingencyor,in religiousterms,existenceas suchis a "miracle,"the


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367 unexplicablemiraclethatthereis something,in particularthat I am there,here and now. This factis, accordingto Kierkegaard, the only real ' "interest"of metaphysicsand upon this interest cannotbut wreckitself. LogicallyHegel speculativemetaphysics mightbe rightin assertingthat the pure, abstractconcepts of being and nothingare identical; in reality they are, however, The real reality,saysKierkegaard,and Heidegger totallydifferent. followedhim in this,is "to be interestedin or concernedwith factual existence/' Existential reality is an inter-esseor inbetween the hypotheticalunity of being and thought. The fundamentalquestion, therefore,is not what is but that I am. "My lifehas been broughtto an impasse,I loathe existence,it is withoutsavor,lackingsalt and sense. . . . One sticksone's finger into the soil to tell by the smell in what land one is: I stickmy - it smellsofnothing. Wheream I? Who am fingerintoexistence I? How came I here? What is thisthingcalled the world? What does thisworldmean? Who is it thathas luredme into the thing, and now leaves me there? Who am I? How did I come into the world? Whywas I not consulted,whynot made acquainted with itsmannersand customs.. . ? How did I obtainan interestin this big enterprisetheycall reality? Why should I have an interestin it? Is it not a voluntaryconcern? And if I am to be compelled to take partin it, whereis the director? I should like to make a remarkto him." 10 Marx's criticismof Hegel's reconciliationof essencewith existfromthatof Kierkegaard. Even as a "mateence is verydifferent rialist" Marx remained a Hegelian idealist, for his ideal of a communistsocietyin which freedomis realized is, in principle, nothingelse but the "realization"of Hegel's principleof theunity of essenceand existence. The communistsociety,as conceived by Marx,realizestheunityofreasonand reality,of generalessence and individualexistence. In a perfectcommunistcommonwealth each individual has his human essence realized as a common existence. In consequenceof his acceptanceof Hegel's principle, 10Kierkegaard, Repetition (Princeton 1941) p. 114.


SOCIAL RESEARCH 368 Marx could saythatHegel is not to blame forhavingassertedthe realityof reasonbut forhavingneglectedthe practicaltaskof its realizationthroughchange and criticism. Instead of criticizing and changingpracticallythewhole establishedreality theoretically of servitudeand unreason for the sake of freedomand reason, Hegel acceptedthe resultsof our political,social, economic,and religioushistoryas reasonable in themselves. From the critical and revolutionarystandpointof Marx such acceptance of the - and Marxismpurestidealism! existentis ' 'crassestmaterialism" And since Marx believed in the possibilityof an empiricalunity of essenceand existence,he is not in the line of modernexistentialismwhich has its name fromthe reductionof essence into existence. With this rebellion of Marx and Kierkegaardagainst Hegel's synthesismodern existentialismbegins, so far as an immediate historicfiliationcan be traced. Actually,modernexistentialism began as earlyas theseventeenth century,withthe Cartesianrevolutionin theconceptionof theworldand its impactupon Pascal's thoughtabout man'sconditionin it. Consideringthe long and laborious historicalprocessthatwas requiredto produceeventuallythosetermswhichare now popular slogans,it would be extremelysuperficialto think of modern existentialismas the mere product of a particular German situation. If there is a historicaland theoreticalalternativeat all to modernexistentialism, one has only the choice of understanding the world and man's place in it eitheras an immutablenatural - or as divine order- thatis,withtheeyesof Greekcontemplation creation that is, with the eyes of Jewishand Christianfaith. Eitherchoice would be indeed persuasivesince one cannot wish to remainforevernailed on the crossof contingency, absurdity, and total displacement. But choosing between the one or the other"project"or Weltentwurf would still be an existentialattitude and decision,and thereforecontradictory to the nature of the chosenworld-view. For neitherof themis a mere projectof


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humanchoiceand decision. The one is revealedand intelligible onlyto faith;theother,too,is revealed,thoughnotbyhistorical butin and bynatureitselfto thenatureofman. We revelation cannotchoosenotto be modern,if it is truethatmodernity has, andviewpoint* restedon thechoiceofa standpoint sinceDescartes, in principlethemodernattitudeas We wouldhaveto overcome existentialsuchtowardthewholeofBeingifwe are to overcome thedirectionin whichHeideggeris now ism. This is precisely theproblemof"BeingandTime" and andreversing transforming distinction withthetraditional thereasonwhyhe rejects, together his own, but of essenceanÂżl existence,Sartre'sexistentialism, natural,child.11As long as we do not even intendto subject thatis, modernmanand themodernworldto a radicalcriticism, we remainexistentheircoordinateprinciples, to one affecting tialists, capableofaskingthemostradicalquestion,"Whyis there - butconstitutionally at all ratherthannothing?" incapanything it. able ofanswering 11Heidegger, PiatonsLehrevon der Wahrheit(Berne1947) p. 72 ÂŁ. (HartfordTheologicalSeminary)

Karl löwith heidegger; problem & background of existentialism  
Karl löwith heidegger; problem & background of existentialism  
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