Being a Self and the Place of Man


Heidegger wrote somewhere or other that the four elements of any basic metaphysical stance were (paraphrasing from memory):

  1. The meaning of Being and of essence as the midpoint between Being and beings.
  2. The meaning of currency and its relation to economics, things and trade.
  3. The meaning of value as the mediator between price and worth.
  4. The place of man in the midst of beings as a whole.

To attach, somewhat arbitrarily, a name to each of these elements at the end of the metaphysics we have had, I have chosen Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, and Heidegger himself.

Each in a manner appropriate to the topic both fulfilled and ended that element as an intertwining thread of metaphysics as it has been. As the last of the four, Heidegger had the clearest view of the result.

Heidegger contention was that man, human being, had been ‘annihilated’. By this he meant the terms ‘human being’, ‘animal rationale’, etc had had their meaning and sense obliterated. In using the term Da-sein Heidegger both wanted to emphasize the ‘thereness’ as primary (as opposed to the I-hereness of subjectivity), but also to re-hear the being of human being in its verbal sense, and the verbal sense of being in the phrase is techne, which is the reason we don’t ascribe the name dog beings to dogs or cat beings to cats.

In modern technology’s decisive showing of itself to be quite literally ‘out of our hands’ (hence the differentiation Heidegger makes between ‘handiwork’ and machinery is not an archaism or a longing for simpler times), the machine doesn’t ‘take’ technology out of our hands, it was never there to begin with, but it demonstrates that it was never there. As such the meaning of such terms is completely lost and irrelevant.

Within each of the four threads metaphysics focused almost entirely on episteme, the study of what is insofar as it has been, and forgot techne both as a mode of doing and more essentially a mode of knowing. Far from slowing down techne, it resulted in its rapid acceleration, without even a pretense being made as to its being ‘under control’, especially into the 19th and 20th centuries. It became the end of metaphysics not because things are no longer metaphysical, but because they are nothing but.

In rereading the book I put out last year, I realized a good part of the topic that was somewhat hidden even to me was the question of being a self, whether ‘the one’’s self or oneself, and what it might mean in a situation where humans can no longer claim the uniqueness of being human beings.

We no longer, as Eliot put it, “prepare a face to meet / the faces that you meet”.  We prepare an interface to meet the interfaces it meets.

 

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