Heidegger’s (disingenuous?) vocabulary

In §§35-38 of chapter 5 of division 1 of Being and Time, Heidegger introduces several terms that he wants to use in a technical sense. He insists that these terms carry no pejorative sense or moral valuation but I think the terms he chooses have such strong moral and/or pejorative connotations that it is extremely difficult not to read them in this way. For instance, the connotations of ‘falling’ (verfallen) of deterioration, collapse, decay, are so strong that it is probably more accurate to call them denotations. The verb fallen does not have these connotations/denotations, but Heidegger prefers verfallen. Likewise with ‘idle talk’ and ‘temptation’. The terms authentic and inauthentic ordinarily carry very strong evaluative meanings: again, I don’t think you can cordon them off from the basic meaning of the terms. Of course, this argument falls down if it can be shown this is not the case with early twentieth century German, but I suspect it was the case for two reasons. The first is the general moralizing subtext, which I have noted and to which I’ll return. The second is that some of Heidegger’s followers have taken his language in this direction. Consider Sartre: he takes much further the importance of relying on the self instead of the social world. Or: Arendt’s idea of moral and political judgement as coming from the individual in distinction from and contrast to the social world. Each suggests the need for the individual to strongly modify their involvement in the social world as a moral issue. There is also the fact that earlier in the volume Heidegger recommends thaumazein as a philosophical virtue, and here posits ‘curiosity’ as its opposite. And there is his claim that inauthentic Dasein tends to obscure the disclosure of Being, which Heidegger thinks is a problem to be overcome and it has been a failure on the part of the philosophical tradition to do so (not to mention Heidegger’s insistence on the importance of his project on those grounds). We know also that he did criticize the general mentalité of his time for its functional, practical, manipulative posture.

If we add all this up I think it is fair to say either Heidegger just chose the wrong terms if he wanted to avoid the kind of moral interpretation taken by some of his major followers, or that he was being disingenuous in denying any pejorative and moral implications to his ontology. Does his ontology not favour the philosopher after all? The one who thinks hard about the entity itself, who has freed herself from the Cartesian gaze, is the one who is able to get beyond idle talk, is not restless as the curious and is probably slightly less trapped by ambiguity. I wonder if the reference to not speaking about what one is on the scent of alludes to his own preference for disappearing into the forest to think. If only we could be a bit more like the philosopher, politics and society would be better off. That’s probably true, but why deny it affects his ontology, when he’s just discussed the inescapability of the hermeneutical circle?

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