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Key Conclusion Of Evil And Its Forgiveness Philosophy Essay

One key conclusion, reached at the end of ‘Evil and its Forgiveness’, of Hegel’s analysis of rational justification is that, in non-formal domains, rational justification such as we human beings can attain it, is in part a social and historical phenomenon. One key conclusion of Heidegger’s Analytic of Being-here (Da-sein) is that our human being-here is structured by historicity (Being and Time §76,77). Compare, contrast and assess Hegel’s and Heidegger’s accounts of these historical dimensions of human thought and understanding. To what extent are their accounts (in)adequate? To what extent are they (in)compatible with each other? To what extent do their accounts reinforce, undermine, coincide with or complement each other? To what extent are their accounts (or might their accounts be) combinable into a superior (or at least a more comprehensive) account of these historical dimensions of human thought and understanding? To what extent do their respective insights and oversights help us better to understand or to resolve issues about the historical dimensions of human thought and understanding?

‘The only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history’ (Hegel)

‘Man acts as though he were the shaper and master of language, while in fact language remains the master of man’ (Heidegger)

Hegel and Heidegger were both eminent philosophers of their respective times: Hegel (1770-1831), the earlier of the two, belongs to the school of Idealism whereas Heidegger (1889-1976) was one of the main exponents of 20th century Existentialism.

Hegel sees the development of Being as an infinite development cycle triggered by the intention of becoming something what it is not at present, and this perpetual chain of development is marked by a point of coincidence of being and non-being, which, when united, form a higher entity. The former entity is therefore combined, through the factors of being and non-being, in a higher synthesis of the two. The development of Being therefore consists of three stages: being is the thesis, non-being the antithesis, and the becoming is the synthesis. These stages are repeated ad infinitum so that the new Being is again tested by the non-being and achieves a still higher stage in the melding of thesis and antithesis to a new stage of becoming. Being is therefore in a constant state of flux, it is rebuilding itself ad infinitum to achieve higher stages of itself. The former stages of Being are not nullified but re=evaluated, so in the development of the human personality we pass from one state to another, constantly evaluating and developing our personality, passing from state to state without nullifying the previous state, which is constantly dividing and recomposing itself. The basis of this perpetual chain of development is rational, as Primordial Being in its essence is thought. Hegel defines the underlying principle thus: Every real being is rational and every rational being is real.

The essence of Being is passing and mutating from what it is to what it is not (yet) and constantly evolving into a higher state. Hegel sees this as a linear development, which does not allow for interruptions, he sees a continuous improvement which cannot be destroyed as this would destroy Being. Hegel assumes that human understanding and the understanding of society will continuously improve as they are constantly challenged by the thesis/antithesis cycle. It is because of historical records of human knowledge and understanding within society that we are able to re-evaluate truth and knowledge as time progresses.

According to Hegel, the human mind is engaged in a continuous struggle with contradictions which result in new syntheses of thought. These contradictions limit human knowledge temporarily but are gradually overcome.

This new concept of reality as the realization and overcoming of opposites (being, non-being, synthesis) requires a new logic, which Hegel calls the logic of the concrete, as opposed to that of Aristotle, which Hegel calls formal logic. Hegel believes that formal logic regards the concept of being as separate from the reality as it is static and not subjected to change where Hegel argues that reality changes constantly at every moment, passing through the stages from what it is to what it is not but is about to become.

Heidegger leaves the tradition of Western philosophy behind in that he ‘invents’ a new terminology for his works by moving right to the limits of his native language, German. He creates new terminology or stretches the meaning of existing words – ‘Dasein’ being a good example as it would translate into ‘existence’ in an every day, non philosophical context, but the two components of the word, ‘Da’ and ‘Sein’ can be translated into a more literal meaning of ‘Being there’, which is the translation used for Heidegger’s philosophical concept of the term. This is just one example of Heidegger’s word creativity which is almost impossible to take across into another language, as the German language allows for several independent words to be connected to form a new word with a different meaning which is not possible in most other languages and therefore causes considerable problems in capturing the essence of the word in translation. In this example Heidegger used the term as a synonym for ‘human individual’ to emphasise the importance of ‘being’ for our ability to understand the world around us: ‘This entity which each of us is himself … we shall denote by the term ‘Dasein’ (BT §27) or compare … ‘Dasein is essentially an entity with Being-in … (BT §84).

Heidegger contrasts Dasein with the primal characteristics of ‘Being’ in that Dasein is always engaged in the world, the state of Being is important and matters to Dasein.

Heidegger attempts to delimit the characteristics of Dasein, to enable him to approach the meaning of being itself though an interpretation of the temporality of Dasein. Heidegger raises the issue of authenticity, by which he means the potential for Dasein to exist fully enough so that it might understand being, however, there is no evidence that this stage has been or even could be achieved.

The question of Dasein’s authenticity is linked to its historicality. Dasein, as a mortal being, is thrown into its possibilities by being thrown into its world, and it is charged with assuming these possibilities. But access to this world and to its possibilities is only possible via tradition or via a history.

Thus, more generally, the outcome of the progression of Heidegger's argument is the thought that the being of Dasein is time. Heidegger believes that traditional language, logical systems, and beliefs obscure Dasein's true nature from itself. In such a case, if Dasein is faced with a paradox within the tradition it must either reject the tradition or reject t he possibility of choice.

Dasein loses its authenticity if it becomes absorbed by being-with-others, being-with-things at hand, and being-with-things objectively present to the extent that it no longer reveals itself. Instead, it is human conscience which makes it possible for Dasein to recognise what it is lacking and to redirect itself towards achieving its full potential. Dasein is a temporal mode of being and this temporality makes it possible for the historicity of Dasein to be concealed or revealed through historical inquiry. Dasein unifies the past, present and future (BT§§ 74, 76).

Heidegger does not deny the importance of knowledge, he simply denies its primacy to other things. He coined the expression of ‘Dasein is being-in-the-world’, by which he means that as Dasein, I am my world and the world is a part of my being.

Heidegger introduces two additional definitions by way of distinction between two ways of approaching the world: the present-at-hand (Vorhandenheit) and the ready-to-hand (Zuhandenheit). Present-at-hand refers to our theoretical apprehension of a world made up of objects. It is the conception of the world from which science begins. In addition, the world is not just filled with meaningful or useful things, but it is also full of people. If I am fundamentally with my world, then I experience that world together with others: I experience "being-with".

Our capability of care makes us essentially future-oriented – Heidegger’s historicity of being-here. Caring means tending to things over a period of time, and in particular including the future. If we hold ourselves responsible for our own acts past and present we hold ourselves responsible to our own possibilities of being.

Heidegger uses the term being-towards-death to explain that, faced with the prospect of our own death as the impossibility of both our very capacities to be and our possibilities

of being, we are forced to examine what we have been or what we could have been. At the same time our conscience is not only retrospective, by recognizing our past and current failings, but it also looks forward by giving us the ability to determine how to respond to these past failings.

Hegel’s concept of rational justification supposes that by a perpetual cycle of thesis, antithesis and synthesis, in connection with the scrutiny of society, the human understanding and thus the understanding of society will ideally be constantly evolving and improving. Mutual critical assessment of ourselves and others are on-going social and historical phenomena, but for them to be successful tools we must recognize our mutual rational interdependence.

But as individuals we are fallible and we are only capable of knowing a small fragment of the sum total of knowledge available to human beings. We must therefore subject our thoughts to scrutiny and we must subject ourselves to the scrutiny of others, at the same time mutually recognising each other as autonomous rational judges.

Interestingly, Hegel’s ideas of a linear historical progress or, by talking about different cultures with reference to their respective spirits, have attracted criticism whereby he is believed to have paved the way for the ideas of totalitarianism arising in the 20th century, whereas Heidegger actively supported that National Socialist movement in Germany, despite the features of extreme totalitarianism of that regime.

Heidegger argues that it is conscience that allows Dasein to recognise what it is lacking and that conscience drives Dasein to redirect itself towards achieving its full potential. Dasein is a temporal mode of being and this temporality makes it possible for the historicity of Dasein to be concealed or revealed through historical inquiry. Dasein understands itself by projecting itself as its thrown possibility (KRW). The ‘thrownness’ of Dasein is its ‘having-already-been’ (its past) and its ‘not-yet being’ (its future/anticipation). Dasein therefore encompasses in itself the past, present and future.

Rather than through the scrutiny of others, as argued by Hegel, it is our own conscience and our care that act as correctors of our own failings. Dasein is forward looking and by retrospective analysis of our actions in the past and by care, a forward looking action, we are able to reflect on our failings and mistakes and address and correct them in the future. The sum of our experience combined with our conscience will guide, correct and improve our future actions.

Heidegger criticizes the definition of time as an infinite series of “now spots” with the future marked as not yet now and the past as no longer now. To Heidegger this is the ordinary or ‘vulgar’ human conception of time and he specifically criticizes Hegel for his view on this subject.

Heidegger argues that we can only truly become ourselves if we are prepared to acknowledge death and can face up to this fact without flinching or anxiety. Once we have mastered this we are free to become ourselves. The phenomenon of being-towards-death means that humans are always running ahead towards their ultimate end, as the human always projects towards the future (BT §§50, 53).

Hegel in contrast, whilst he also accords time a determining power over Being, reduces time to the now and extends this now to include the past (history). Time’s only relation to history is the fact that it made history possible.

Whilst Heidegger's view of time is probably closest to Hegel's with respect to the degree to which he accords it importance and determining power over Being, Heidegger distances himself from Hegel’s thoughts in interpreting things as realized potentials.

For Hegel, human nature is not fixed, but perpetually develops into new forms, and human beings create themselves anew through their activities. He does not see human beings as isolated entities, but stresses the importance of mutual scrutiny and cooperation, which makes Being possible.

I would expect a combination of Hegel’s and Heidegger’s view on human understanding might be a better fit for the characteristics of human nature. Humans are capable of insight and have a conscience that calls them to correct and adjust their behaviour, but they might still err in their endeavours to become better human beings and to gain a deeper insight into their actions. At the extreme, it is arguable whether one human being on his/her own is human at all, as in isolation we cannot enact behaviours that make us human, or whether it is this interaction with other human beings that bestows in us the characteristics of humanness. For Hegel the interaction and mutual ‘scrutiny’ of other human beings ensure that we do not err in our adjustments, but, as long as we accept others as rational judges, as they in turn must accept us, we will not fail in perfecting our knowledge and human understanding. Hegel does not see humans as isolated entities, but as members of a family, a group, and ultimately a state (society) in which humans can flourish.

As mentioned above, both Heidegger and Hegel view time as essential for the Being and Dasein respectively, but use different concepts to explain what time constitutes. Heidegger explains that we can only understand time when we understand our mortality and finite time in this world. And we can only understand the phenomenon of time from our mortal or finite vantage point. Contrary to more traditional philosophical approaches to the problem of time, Heidegger argues that time does not find its meaning in eternity, time finds its meaning in death. I find this a very difficult concept to understand as my own view, formed perhaps because of the exposure to what Heidegger deems ‘vulgar’ views of the concept of time, is that time is totally independent of the constraints or otherwise of living beings, without being able to offer a better or alternative explanation of time. I rather feel that I must be in the vulgarian camp, according to Heidegger, by tending to view time as infinite and moving forward, if only, because this seems a more familiar concept in Western thinking. In the absence of scientific evidence or definition of the nature of time (as yet) I find it a moot exercise to try to re-define what time is: we can only speculate at it and our human constraints of perception and comprehension (in my view also finite resources) do not yet or perhaps never will allow us to get closer to the point.

Heidegger’s and Hegel’s concepts of human understanding have complementary features, such as Hegel’s scrutiny of self and others, together with the mutual recognition of the other as a rational judge of our own actions to arrive at a better level of understanding which is compatible with Heidegger’s concept of care and forward looking actions of Dasein. Dasein through the combined concepts of care and guilt, will strive to correct its past and present failings and will endeavour to improve its future actions. The combined approach of constantly evolving via the Hegelian concept of thesis, antithesis and synthesis with Heidegger’s striving for better understanding through care and so self-correcting what was amiss in past and present actions, would allow us to get as close to become perfect human beings as is possible for creatures that must ultimately be fallible.

Heidegger urges us to overcome our anxieties and fears when thinking about death and suggests that we must face up to it and overcome these fears if we want to leave behind the petty everyday concerns and become truly ourselves. This is difficult to accomplish because every creature feels anxiety and fears death, but there remains the truth that we will be liberated and have the capacity of deeper understanding of our being if we can case off our fears as mortal beings.

I my view, the biggest weakness in Heidegger’s work is what I hesitate to call his contrived use of language. I see Heidegger’s work as an attempt at a revolution: philosophy lives and breathes through the creative use of language to convey new concepts and ideas which by their nature are highly complex and abstract. However, I see Heidegger’s use of language not so much as creative in a positive sense, by which I mean adding words for concepts or objects that have not yet been captured by existing words in that language. Heidegger’s use of language seems often tortured and contrived, and that applies even more so when one looks at translated texts, but is still valid for the words he uses in his original German. I can see the need to create new words for abstract concepts might arise, but this should be a comparatively rare occurrence. Whereas, when we look at the need to create new terms when dealing with objects, this should be much more frequent, as new inventions need to be given a name whereby we can agree to call them. Most, if not all, living languages are capable of this creativity and new words flow into the language and enter daily use quickly, and I would like to cite modern Hebrew as an example for this process. Ancient Hebrew was revived from a language last spoken during biblical times. Still, despite the fact that it was such an ancient language and had not been in use for centuries, if not millennia, it proved adaptable and vibrant enough to accommodate terms for new technology, such as words for plane, car, train, etc. which were not merely borrowed from another, modern language but make perfect sense within the structure and syntax of that ancient language. My point is that Heidegger’s terminology appears often clumsy and contrived where it should or need not be – if there is a genuine need for a new term, language will mould itself to it and provide it. Heidegger forces language, in my view, without being able to demonstrate the need for doing so. Is this to hide that there is lack of substance in his theories and, by throwing new concepts and terms at it, he has hoped to give strength to his ideas?

After a period of silence around Heidegger and Hegel, both philosophers have experienced a type of revival, particularly in Anglophone countries. In particular, Heidegger seems to have overcome the stigma his work had suffered post World War II as he had been a member of the National Socialist Party in Germany throughout the War and was banned from teaching in Germany for a number of years as a consequence. The revival of his ideas is perhaps even more astonishing given these circumstances.

Sources

Pinkard, T. (ed.), Hegel, G.W.F., System of Science, First Part, The Phenomenology of Spirit, original edition published by Joseph Anthon Goebhardt, Bamberg and Würzburg, 1807, available at: ttp://web.mac.com/titpaul/Site/About_Me_Files/Phenomenology %20of%20Spirit%20(entire%20text)

Westphal, Kenneth R., ed., 2009. The Blackwell Guide to Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. Oxford, Blackwell

Heidegger, Martin, 1978. Being and Time. J. Macquarrie & E. Robinson, trs. Oxford, Wiley-Blackwell

Mulhall, Stephen, 2005. Routledge Guidebook to Heidegger & Being and Time, 2nd ed. London, Routledge

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