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Amor Mundi: Thoughtless Creatures

Hannah Arendt considered calling her magnum opus Amor Mundi: Love of the World. Instead, she settled upon The Human Condition. What is most difficult, Arendt writes, is to love the world as it is, with all the evil and suffering in it. And yet she came to do just that. Loving the world means neither uncritical acceptance nor contemptuous rejection. Above all it means the unwavering facing up to and comprehension of that which is.

Every Sunday, The Hannah Arendt Center Amor Mundi Weekly Newsletter will offer our favorite essays and blog posts from around the web. These essays will help you comprehend the world. And learn to love it.


Thoughtless Creatures

Toward the beginning of The Human Condition Hannah Arendt warned that the scientific revolution in the social sciences, triumph of mathematical language and technology could irrevocably harm the common ground sense of the world that we share in common, the public realm of politics, and thinking. She writes in her Prologue

But it could be that we who are earth-bound creatures and have begun to act as though we were dwellers of the universe, will forever be unable to understand, that is, to think and speak about the things which nevertheless we are able to do. In this case, it would be as though our brain, which constitutes the physical, material condition of our thoughts, were unable to follow what we do, so that from now on we would indeed need artificial machines to do our thinking and speaking. If it should turn out to be true that knowledge (in the modern sense of know-how) and thought have parted company for good, then we would indeed become the helpless slaves, not so much of our machines as of our know-how, thoughtless creatures at the mercy of every gadget which is technically possible, no matter how murderous it is.

Have knowledge and thinking parted company? Have we become helpless slaves to our machines, at the mercy of every gadget?

It appears that Arendt’s fear has come to fruition. And while certain technological capacities like drones and medical robots relieve humans of certain responsibilities, the greater fear is that they will eventually relieve us of the need to think all together, and that we would welcome this relief.

Justin E. H. Smith writes this week for The Point that “It’s All Over”, and by over he means discourse as we knew it. He writes: “There is, it seems to me, no more place for writers and thinkers in our future than, since the nineteenth century, there has been for weavers.” Smith winnows the flattening effect technological algorithms have on our lives, and the reductive logical tendencies that they rely upon:

I have read that Tinder users agree that one should “swipe left’” (i.e. reject) on any prospective mate or hookup who proclaims a fondness for, among other writers, Kurt Vonnegut, Ernest Hemingway or William S. Burroughs. I couldn’t care less about the first two of these, but Burroughs is very important to me. He played a vital role in shaping how I see the world (Cities of the Red Night, in particular), and I would want any person with whom I spend much time communicating to know this. I believe I have good reasons for valuing him, and would be happy to talk about these reasons.

I experience my love of Burroughs as singular and irreducible, but I am given to know, when I check in on the discourse, that I only feel this way because I am running a bad algorithm. And the result is that a part of me—the weak and immature part—no longer wants the overarching “You may also like…” function that now governs and mediates our experience of culture and ideas to serve up “Adolph Reed” or “William S. Burroughs” among its suggestions, any more than I want Spotify to suggest, on the basis of my playlist history, that I might next enjoy a number by Smash Mouth. If the function pulls up something bad, it must be because what preceded it is bad. I must therefore have bad taste, stupid politics; I must only like what I like because I’m a dupe.

— Samantha Rose Hill

What Fact Checking Can Do, and What it Cannot

Hannah Arendt argues that the mobilized members of a movement are confounded by a world resistant to their wishes and prefer the promise of a consistent alternate world to reality. “What convinces masses are not facts, and not even invented facts, but only the consistency of the system of which they are presumably part.” But do the convinced masses actually not believe facts, or can they compartmentalize their knowledge in ways that recognizes a lie and yet dismisses the importance of the lie? In a new study by Brendan Nyhan, Ethan Porter, Jason Reifler, and Thomas Wood, the authors show that pointing out factual misstatements to ideologically committed voters can change their perceptions of the facts, but rarely has an impact on their overarching political opinions. Here is the abstract:

Are citizens willing to accept journalistic fact-checks of misleading claims from candidates they support and to update their attitudes about those candidates? Previous studies have reached conflicting conclusions about the effects of exposure to counter- attitudinal information. As fact-checking has become more prominent, it is therefore worth examining how respondents respond to fact-checks of politicians — a question with important implications for understanding the effects of this journalistic format on elections. We present results to two experiments conducted during the 2016 campaign that test the effects of exposure to realistic journalistic fact-checks of claims made by Donald Trump during his convention speech and a general election debate. These messages improved the accuracy of respondents’ factual beliefs, even among his supporters, but had no measurable effect on attitudes toward Trump. These results suggest that journalistic fact-checks can reduce misperceptions but often have minimal effects on candidate evaluations or vote choice.


Art & Arendt

This week we are excited to announce a new monthly column that we will be publishing by Max L. Feldman. Max is a writer, art critic, and educator based in Vienna, Austria.

In The Human Condition Arendt wrote “Because of their outstanding permanence, works of art are the most intensely worldly of all tangible things…” This column will reflect upon the relationship between art and the public realm of politics, and the ways in which Arendt’s thought bears on the past, present, and future of artistic creation and the world that we share in common.

You can read the first installation here.


Quote of the Week: Tragic Action, Tragic Judgment

This essay was originally published on October 26, 2018

Elizabeth Barringer is the Klemens von Klemperer teaching fellow at the Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York.

“The specific revelatory quality of action and speech, the implicit manifestation of the agent and speaker, is so indissolubly tied to the living flux of acting and speaking that it can be represented and reified only through a kind of repetition, the imitation of mimesis, which according to Aristotle prevails in all arts but is actually appropriate only to drama.

— Hannah Arendt

Hannah Arendt writes the above in The Human Condition, her work examining the major categories of human activity and human freedom. She later tantalizingly echoes these comments in The Life of the Mind, her incomplete work on thinking, willing, and judging, when she speaks of the challenge of making judgments about human life caught up in this ongoing ‘flux’.

“Human life, because it is marked by a beginning and an end,” she writes, “becomes whole, an entity in itself that can be subjected to judgment, only when it has ended in death; death not merely ends life, it also bestows upon it a silent completeness snatched from the hazardous flux to which all things human are subject.”[1] Here I would like to take these passages together to suggest a connection between Arendt’s understanding of what is demanded of judgment and her turn towards tragic drama in The Human Condition.

The idea that a life can only be judged once it is complete is traditionally the wisdom of Solon, the Athenian lawmaker. But this sentiment is found across classical thought, and famously reproduced by Aristotle in his Nichomachean Ethics.[2] In the Ethics, Aristotle’s concern is to identify the conditions which give rise to eudaimonia (literally, being ‘well spirited’). This “lasting state of being,” as Arendt describes it, requires sound judgment and character: knowing how to identify and do the right thing, in the right way, at the right time, without psychological friction. For Aristotle, the study of ethics is by definition a political science, depending on the presence of a moral, judging community. It is also an imperfect science. Living well, attaining eudaimonia, requires more than simply following the right rules. This is because “the accidents of fortune are many:” regardless of our intentions, we do not control the circumstances, or consequences, of our deeds.[3] When Aristotle speaks of ‘sound’ character he means a person who makes judgments while recognizing “that justice does not prevail in the world.”[4] A person might struggle to do everything right and nonetheless come to disaster. Aristotle therefore insists a life can only be called eudaimon in hindsight, viewed as a complete whole.

Arendt presents a parallel idea when she suggests in The Human Condition that no individual is the author of their own life story: “whatever the character and contents of the subsequent story may be, whether it is played in private or public life, whether it involves many or few actors,” she writes, “its full meaning can reveal itself only when it has ended.” Arendt similarly contrasts “the backward glance” of the historian who judges and describes the meaning of the “great, unending story” of human affairs with artistic “fabrication,” where the intellectual model or plan of the artist become “the light by which to judge the finished product” [HC 192]. She is deeply critical of attempts to substitute making as the model of political life or history for acting, where persons freely, and unpredictably, break and forge relationships, their words and deeds setting off new chains of events they cannot fully anticipate or control. She thus notes that “Because the actor always moves among and in relation to other acting beings, he is never merely a “doer” but always and at the same time a sufferer” [HC 190]. A political world shaped by this living flux of action, rather than an imposed order of ‘making,’ will always exceed the guidance available from fixed, unchanging criteria or abstract, universal laws. For Arendt, acting politically is never simply about applying the right rules.

But these accounts place the living actor in a pickle: How is one to make sound judgments about their own life, or the actions of others, while still caught up in that contingent and hazardous ‘flux’ of action? What orientation is appropriate for navigating this kind of reality? Or, in more Arendtian terms, how is one to think what they are doing? In her writings on judgment, Arendt frequently turns to Aristotle and Kant for answers to this question. She argues for an ‘enlarged mentality:’ learning to think from the plural perspectives of others about particular questions or objects appear to them; or about how one’s own actions might appear to others. But what does this learning entail? One answer, I propose, may be found by looking more closely at Arendt’s turn to Aristotle’s Poetics in her description of action.

Arendt approvingly cites Aristotle’s famous definition of plot as the “soul” of tragedy, where tragic plot is “the [imitation] of an action which is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude [… which] through the arousal of pity and fear [effects] the katharsis of such emotions” [ln1449b ]. She describes drama as “the political art par excellence” because it “is the only art whose sole subject is man in his relationship to others” [HC 188]. Drama, and especially tragedy, imitates how action goes on between different persons. But for Aristotle, imitation is not simply a form of entertainment. In The Poetics, Aristotle argues that “it is natural for everyone to take pleasure in imitations” because imitation is one powerful way that persons, especially children, learn [1448b5–20]. For Aristotle, we create artistic imitations of reality for the pleasure of knowing it better. Taking Aristotle seriously on this point, however, means that the tragic theater aims to imitate human action specifically for the sake of understanding the world.

What does tragedy help us understand? Watching tragedies, spectators see how the ‘action’ of a play develops between individuals, generating conflicts between obligations and identities, and running past any single person’s control despite an agent’s best intentions. In tragedy, disaster is frequently brought about due to a prideful overconfidence in one’s knowledge (consider Oedipus); or from a failure to acknowledge the perspectives and needs of others who share one’s world (consider Antigone). Here the political and moral laws and values which structured polis life were interrogated from plural positions, often by persons typically excluded from politics (consider The Bacchae, or Ion.) Peter J. Euben notes “theater provided a place and moment when citizen spectators could judge refracted versions of themselves on stage.”[5]

Tragedy, then, is a poetic “making” which enables judgment. The tragic poet transposes the ‘flux’ of unlimited events and happenings into a story about a complete action which can be grasped, spoken about, praised or blamed — but not in a detached, removed sense. As Stephen Halliwell comments, speaking of Aristotle’s Poetics, “the emotional experience of tragic poetry presupposes a strong sympathy which does not take the spectator or reader out of himself, but entails a deeper sense of the vulnerability of his own place in the world.” [6] Through this dual activity of imaginative sympathizing and judging, individual spectators were encouraged to relate to those on stage: to consider their own actions and lives in analogous terms, as objects of judgment. As Michael Davis puts it, “Poetry makes it possible to experience our action as a whole before it is whole.”[7] Tragedy provides tools for spectators to view their own lives, words and deeds, as they might appear completed before the judgment of others.

It is in this spirit, I suggest, that we can understand Arendt’s description of classical drama as the “political art par excellence.” Learning to view human action tragically coheres with the “enlarged mentality” which Arendt praises, where one considers their actions from the vantage of a common world, and where refusing to acknowledge the plural perspectives of others leads to an attenuated sense of reality, threatening political and moral disaster. Tragedy mimics the ways that action, and meaning, emerge between agents who cannot control the events they — or others — set into motion. But it also fosters an orientation towards the world that imbeds the actor more firmly into the hazardous, living flux of the world; one where actors are always doers and sufferers, their actions prone to failure in ways which might nonetheless be made meaningful. Such an orientation is necessary in a world where justice does not, on its own, prevail.

[1] Hannah Arendt, The Life of the Mind, (New York: Harcourt Press, 1978), 164.

[2] Arendt’s treatment of this saying may be found in HC 192–3.

[3] Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics, Book 1, Ln1100b23.

[4] Michael Davis, “Introduction” in Aristotle, Aristotle On Poetics; with Seth Benardete, trans. (South Bend: St. Augustine’s Press, 2002) xxii; also Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics, Book 5, Ln1137b.

[5] Peter J. Euben, “Arendt’s Hellenism” in Dana Villa (ed) The Cambridge Companion to Hannah Arendt (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2000), 159.

[6] Stephen Halliwell, Aristotle’s Poetics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 183.

[7] Davis, “Introduction,” xv.

Journal Feature: The Destiny of Freedom

by Philippe Nonet

Origin of what fits [man] for greatness, queen Alètheia, may you never make my understanding stumble upon harsh deceit
Pindar, fragment 205

The following remarks may seem to present a sketch of the history of freedom in modern times, namely from Kant to Heidegger. They do not intend to do so. They do not concern history as such—that is, as the succession of events in the passing of calculable time. They concern the past only insofar as it opens a destiny for modern man. Hence their title: “The Destiny of Freedom.”

The past indeed puts modern man before the necessity of a decision regarding the future of freedom, a necessity that he can evade, but only at the greatest danger. To anticipate, the following argument in brief is this: Until today, freedom has been thought as an attribute of the will, indeed as the will’s highest possibility. However, “freedom of the will” attains its most extreme power in the rise of modern technique. Technique in turns threatens to extinguish human freedom. “Freedom of the will” thus turns into an illusion that conceals a radical form of servility, such as mankind has never known before.
When this illusion and concealment become apparent to modern man, there opens the possibility of a new birth of freedom, now grounded in what Heidegger called “the truth of being,” “die Wahrheit des Seins;” “truth” here employed in the Greek sense of )-!,4.1, namely “un-concealment.” So grounded, freedom itself is freed from the will’s imprisonment in technique. The remarks are accordingly divided in two parts. The first concerns “free will” as the metaphysical origin of technique, and ranges from Kant to our times. The second concerns the present sway of technique as the opening of a more original possibility of freedom, detached from the will. It focuses on the teaching of Heidegger.

I. “Free Will” as the Metaphysical Origin of Technique.
A striking ambiguity pervades Kant’s ethics. On the one hand, Kant grounds ethics in “pure” duty, free from all utilitarian calculation. On the other hand, pure duty is thought to rest upon the will to will, which, as the cornerstone of modern metaphysic, culminates in the sway of technique, and the reduction of all good to the “value” of means, i.e. the radical opposite of pure duty. Thus Kant’s law of duty ends up being destroyed by the very ground it lays for itself. For present purposes, it suffices to read one sentence, perhaps the most widely misunderstood of all his ethics, namely the first sentence of the first chapter of the Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten:

Es ist überall nichts in der Welt, ja überhaupt auch ausser derselben zu denken möglich, was ohne Einschränkung für gut könnte gehalten werden, als ein guter Wille.

Roughly translated, the German words say: “It is impossible to think of anything in the world, or indeed outside of the world, that could be held as good without limitation, other than a good will.” In brief: No good can be thought unlimited, other than a good will.

What is a “will”? To Kant, the will is a power of the understanding to propose to itself an aim, and to move itself to actualize this aim; that is, to bring the aim into actuality, to cause the effectuation of the proposed end. What then is a “good” will? The power to will is good, in Greek ) 1, 3, insofar as it is indeed fit to will, and thus itself desirable as an aim of willing. Only such a good will can be good “without limitation,” i.e. unconditionally, absolutely, infinitely good. A good is absolute if it must always be willed along with the willing of every other contingent good a will may pro- pose to itself. Then every willing, however contingent, harbors in itself an absolute will to will, by virtue of which the will actualizes itself as will, causes itself actually to be a good will. The Kantian concept of a will to will follows from the Cartesian cogito, cogito me cogitare, in accordance with which every thought rests upon a fulfillment of the self as a being who thinks.

This absolutely good will to will is the causa prima, the first cause, of all possible willing of the good. As cause prima, it must be causa sui, the sole cause of its own actualization. Causa prima and causa sui are long established names of the god of metaphysic.

Such a good will is “pure,” that is, unaffected by causes alien to its own power. It is entirely determined by laws it gives itself in accordance with its own essence. Thus it is absolutely “free.” Freedom, so conceived, is the power of a will to actualize itself in accordance with its own essence.
As the summum bonum, the highest good, such a free will is the being, das Seiende, that most is, the summum ens, in German, das Seiendste, in Platonic Greek, 0   30″2  3. This highest “being,” in the substantive sense of das Seiende, fulfills in itself the essence of “being,” in the verbal sense of das Sein. Accordingly, the essence of being is willing.

Here are, in a nutshell, the fundamental principles of modern meta- physic since Kant. They remain unchanged all the way through our times, however oblivious modern man may be of the way they still govern his mind. They aim to show a presence of god in man in the form of an unconditional will—and an unconditional obligation—to will freely.

We must, for want of time, pass over the thought of Hegel and Schelling, who, on present matters, do not differ from Kant. We now turn briefly to the last of the great thinkers in the history of metaphysic, Nietzsche, whose work precedes the extinction of metaphysical inquiry under the sway of technique. (For an overview and basic references, see the table at the end of this section.) As the following hints indicate, Nietzsche’s thought is, at bottom, an extreme form of Kantianism, albeit inverted.

With him, the Kantian will to will takes the form of “will to power.” “Will” here is the power of a being to command itself, i.e. (as Kant would say) to give itself laws. “Power” is the will’s mastery of the conditions of its causal effectiveness. The will to power commands itself to command the fulfillment of its “values,” namely of the ends it posits for itself as means to the preservation and enhancement of its power.

Among the highest values of the will is “truth,” the illusory “knowledge” by which the will seeks to secure the power it has gained. (Compare with Kant’s account of the transcendental constitution of objects of experience.) But higher still is the value of “art,” which stimulates the will to enhance its power, and thus to attain ever higher levels of “life” (i.e. will). (Compare with Kant’s account of beauty and the teleology of nature).

The will to power is thus, ultimately, a will to surpass itself. Man himself is nothing but a “bridge” for passing over to the “overman.”

Accordingly, this will to power deifies itself as the god of the highest life, Dionysos, the being (das Seiende) who “lives,” and therefore “is,” the most (das Seiendste), the summum ens.

All this follows from the principle that the essence of “life,” namely the essence of “being” in the sense of das Sein, is will to power. The law that governs its fulfillment is “the eternal recurrence of the same,” the for- mal structure of which is identical with Kant’s “categorical imperative”: “always act in such a way that you may will your deed eternally to recur.” In our times, when the age of technique comes into full sway, Western mankind (with the rare exception of a few descendants of Nietzsche, notably R. M. Rilke and E. Jünger) ceases to ask metaphysical questions, with the consequence that the will to will becomes unchallenged, and transforms itself in unexamined ways. All matters concerning humanity are now referred to the “sciences of man” (biology, history, psychology, sociology), all of which are constitutionally incapable of even posing any question regarding the essence of man.

In accordance with the teachings of Nietzsche, the concept of “value” comes to exclude all other possible forms of the good, and guarantees in principle that all human ends are possible objects of calculation, radically commensurable and thus interchangeable. In lawyers’ parlance, all goods become res fungibiles.

At the same time, the will loses all character of self-command and self-surpassment. Its freedom, now conceived of as the power to dispose of all forces of nature, becomes a never-ending task at which man is to devote his labor. The homo animal rationale turns into the homo animal laborans: labor takes the place of reason as the destiny of man.

Thus the freedom of the will gives birth to universal servitude, an astonishing phenomenon long ago pointed out by Nietzsche (Also sprach Zarathustra, Vorrede, par. 5, and Dritter Teil, “Von der verkleinernden Tugend: “Ich diene, du dienst, wir dienen.”) and later again by Max Weber, who coined the phrase “die herrenlose Sklaverei,” slavery without master (Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft, p. 709), and last but not least by E. Jünger (Der Arbeiter, passim). [See Appendix 1]

Now the question arises: What is it to which this servility gives obedience? One answer to it, and so far the only answer known to mankind, is to be found in the thinking of Heidegger.

II. Das Gestell and the Service of Being (das Sein).
Heidegger’s answer says: the domination (die Herrschaft) to which modern man has fallen into servitude is that of a “law,” but a law of a distinct kind, for which we have no name in English. Heidegger calls it “das Gestell.” The word is untranslatable. Like Gesetz, the common German name for “positive law,” Gestell is formed from the passive participle of a verb: “stellen.”

Stellen conveys above all the extraordinarily imperious character of Gestell. It does not only guide man, it compels him. This law is indeed a “higher” law, to which all other law must conform. Characteristically, it compels all legal thought to recast itself in the form of policy calculation. Most generally, it compels man to think technically: Gestell summons all mankind to summon all nature (including mankind) to release energy for accumulation at man’s disposal (bestellen). Thus it threatens to transform man himself into a disposable “resource.”

At the same time as Gestell reduces man to servitude, it misrepresents (verstellen) technical thought as an instrument in the hands of man, a tool by means of which man enlarges the power of his will, and elevates himself to “lordship over the earth.” The law induces the metaphysical illusion that technique is a promise of “freedom” and “progress” through science. Imperious and deceptive as it may be, this law, by virtue of which technique rules over modern man, does not issue from will at all, be it the will of God or the will of man, be it by command, or enactment, or contract. Gestell is no positive law at all. It does not issue from any “posing.”

From where then, or from whom, or from what does “Gestell” proceed? Answer: From nowhere, from no one, and from nothing. “Gestell” can be traced to no being, “kein Seiendes,” that could function as its “ground.” It is a groundless explosion of groundless grounding, an irrationality of rationality.

But this “no-thing” is not nothing at all. “Das Nichts,” as Heidigger says, “ist der Schleier des Seins,” the no-thing is the veil of being (Was ist Metaphysik? Nachwort, p.52). What shows itself in “das Gestell,” in its imperiousness as well as in its deceptiveness, is being in the sense of “Das Sein,” which “is” “nicht selbst ein Seiendes” (Sein und Zeit, p. 6), not itself a being in the sense of das Seiende. Heidegger’s thinking owes its depth to this insight, which sets it apart from all attempts at causal explanations of modernity. The insight is rooted in Heidegger’s profound experience of die Seinsverlassenheit des Seienden, the abandonment of das Seiende by das Sein.

Under the spell of “das Gestell,” all beings are turned into disposable and fungible quantities of energy. In Kant and Nietzsche, and already in Descartes, things were reduced to the standing of objects (Gegenstand) capable of representation (Vorstellen) for the purpose of scientific-technical inquiry. With technique, even objects dissolve: They become measured amounts of “value” capable of being expended: der bestellbare Bestand des Bestellens. Things are thus robbed of their being (Sein): They are uprooted from their formerly essential relations to man and God, to sky and earth, to past and future. That is to say, they become worldless, insofar as world signifies the opening of the openness of those essential differences.

In proportion as things cease to be, man experiences a corresponding impoverishment of his own existence, namely the loss of all capacity to marvel, to wonder, to revere, and the corresponding debasement of language. This impoverishment shows itself in the massive boredom from which modern man suffers to no end, as he needs always to be somewhere other than where he is, craving forever “new” distraction and excitement. But the abandonment of being, die Seinsverlassenheit, is nothing to bemoan as mere privation. The devastation of beings (die Verwüstung des Seienden) shows the power of evil in being (das Sein). This showing, however, entails the first emergence of being (das Sein) out of centuries of oblivion in Western history. (On this point, a key text of Heidegger is discussed in the table attached at the end of this section.) At bottom, “das Gestell” is the first revelation, albeit in disguise, of the law, das Gesetz, of the mutual belonging of being (das Sein) and man. Heidegger calls this law “das Ereignis,” that by virtue of which being and man are destined to be each other’s “own.” “Das Gestell,” says Heidegger, “ist der Schleier des Ereignisses erstes Erblitzen,” the veil of first lightning of das Ereignis (Vorträge und Aufsätze, marginal note f, Gesamtausgabe Bd. 7, p. 20).

The imperiousness of “das Gestell” shows how being (das Sein) lays a claim upon the service of man. It demands that man attend to the unconcealment of beings (das Seiende) in the openness of truth as )-!,4.1, die Lichtung des Seins, i.e. “the clearing of being.” Technique itself is in the end only one mode of such unconcealment.

The deceptiveness of “das Gestell” reveals how being (das Sein) denies itself unconcealment in its own truth. It conceals itself, and so sends man on the pursuit of misleading metaphysical representations of being (das Sein), thus furthering distortions of man’s own essence as the being (das Seiende) who understands being (das Sein). The truth of being, die Wahrheit des Seins, therefore requires an unconcealment of the concealment of being (das Sein): the saying of the mystery of being, das Geheimnis.

Being’s abandonment of beings, die Seinsverlassenheit des Seienden, reveals how man’s own flourishing is bound to the richness of the world he inhabits, and thus to the care with which he serves the truth of being, die Wahrheit des Seins. This service of truth is no servitude. “Das Gestell” brings servitude only insofar as its exclusive pursuit of expendable energy rules out a wealth of other ways of unconcealment, and so impedes the flowering of the essence of man. Far from bringing servitude, the service of truth is nothing other than the service of freedom.

The essence of freedom lies indeed in the essence of truth. “Freiheit ist die Zugehörigkeit in das Eigentum des Seyns. Das Eigentum des Seyns is die wesende Wahrheit als Lichtung des Verbergung.” Freedom is belonging into the property of being. The property of being is essential truth as the clearing of concealment (Die Geschichte des Seyns, Gesamtausgabe Bd. 69, par. 174).

Kant already knew the identity of freedom and truth (Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten, p. 448). Indeed, he thought of thinking (in the service of truth) as a kind of willing (in the service of freedom). Accordingly, just as he conceives truth as an attribute of thought (namely the adaequatio intellectus ad rem, the accordance of thought with thing), he also regards freedom as a property of the will. In this, he follows a longstanding tradition that originates in Ancient Greece.

Heidegger points out that an accordance of thought and thing must rest upon a prior disclosure of beings (das Seiende) in the openness of the unconcealment of being (das Sein). In this openness lies the ground of both truth and freedom. To free a being (ein Seiendes) is to save it, that is, to let it stand in truth in accordance with its own way to be (Sein). The essence of freedom is the capacity to free, i.e. to let be: “Im Seinlassenkönnen, nicht im Anordnen und Beherrschen beruht die Freiheit,” freedom rests in the ability to let-be, not in ordaining and mastering (Feldweggespräche, Gesamtausgabe Bd. 77, p. 230). Of all beings, man alone is granted the capacity to let beings (himself and others) be themselves, which capacity always rests upon the simultaneous gift of the being of beings (das Sein des Seienden). Over that gift, he has no power other than to refuse it. Man alone is thus charged with the guardianship of truth, i.e. freedom.

Modern mankind is then faced with the necessity of a decision regarding freedom. Either it remains committed to freedom in the Kantian sense of freedom of the will, and so condemns itself to servitude in the exclusive service of technique as will to will, or it sees the essence of “das Gestell,” and surrenders all thought of the absolute self-determination of the will, be it that of the individual or that of a people (autonomy, democracy, sovereignty). Having let go of the will to will, man would have freed himself to place himself in the service of freedom proper, as guardianship of the unconcealment of being. [See Appendix 2]

Appendix 1 Notes on Free Will
“Es ist überall nichts in der Welt, ja überhaupt auch außer derselben zu denken möglich, was ohne Einschränkung für gut könnte gehalten werden, als allein ein guter Wille.” Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten, in Werke, IV, p. 393 (1785).
Der Wille ist eine Art von Causalität lebender Wesen, so fern sie vernünftig sind, und Freiheit würde diejenige Eigenschaft dieser Causalität sein, da sie unabhängig von fremden sie bes- timmenden Ursachen wirkend sein kann. Ibid., p 446.
“Es gibt in der letzten und höchsten Instanz gar kein andres Sein als Wollen. Wollen ist Ursein.” Philosophische Untersuchungen über das Wesen der Menschlichen Freiheit, in Sämmtlishe Werke, Erste Abteilung, 7. Band, p. 350 (1809).
“Der Boden des Rechts ist überhaupt das Geistige und seine nähere Stelle und Ausgangspunkt der Wille, welche frei ist, so das die Freiheit seine Substanz und Bestimmung ausmacht und das Rechtssystem das Reich der verwirklichten Freiheit, die Welt des Geistes aus ihm selbst hervorgebracht, als eine zweite Natur, ist.” Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts, § 4 (1820).
Unser Intellekt, unser Wille, ebenso unsere Empfindungen sind abhängig von unseren Wertschätzungen: diese entsprechen unseren Trieben und deren Existenzbedingungen. Unsere Triebe sind reduzirbar auf den Willen zur Macht.
Der Wille zur Macht ist das letzte Factum, zu dem wir hinunterkommen.” Kritische Studienausgabe, Bd. 11, p. 661; Grossoktav Ausgabe, Bd. XVI, p. 415 (1885).
“Man liebt zuletzt seine Begierde, und nicht das Begehrte.” Jenseits von Gut und Böse, § 175 (1886).
Lieber will noch der Mensch das Nichts wollen, als nicht wollen . . .” Zur Genealogie der Moral, III, § 28 (see also § 1) (1887).

Video Feature: Greg Lukianoff, Suzanne Nossel, Angus Johnston

This panel discussion was part of the Hannah Arendt Center’s 2016 conference, ‘REAL TALK: Difficult Questions about Race, Sex and Religion’.

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Posted on 11 January 2019 | 1:45 pm

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