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A Theory of Moral Objectivity (Section 4h - Existentialists)

By Robert M. Ellis, originally written as a Ph.D. thesis 'A Buddhist theory of moral objectivity' in 2001. This html version copyright 2008.

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4h)      The Existentialists


i)                    Kierkegaard’s leap


I shall now consider some alternative versions of existentialism to the type which Nietzsche offers. By necessity my treatment of these thinkers will be brief, focussing only on selected aspects of their doctrines in which they differ from Nietzsche. In the case of Kierkegaard (who chronologically preceded Nietzsche) I shall focus only on the central idea of the “leap of faith”.


Like Nietzsche, Kierkegaard was Sceptical of naturalistic claims, whether of the eternalist or scientistic type, and focussed instead on the dynamic activity of the ego in creating its own significance through assertive activity. Like Nietzsche, then, he assumes that the failure of “objective” cognitive criteria for ethics, means that we are thrown back onto the resources of the ego. For Kierkegaard, however, this is not a cause for celebration at our liberation from God, but for angst at the separation from God’s perfection that leaves us with. His solution more resembles William James’s than Nietzsche’s: a voluntaristic “leap” towards God. But Kierkegaard’s justification for this leap is less rationally circumscribed than James’s, involving more of a deliberate assumption of apparently irrationalist values.


The leap of faith is found as part of the structure of ideas which forms Kierkegaard’s “dialectic”. In distinction from that of Hegel (whose naturalism Kierkegaard deeply opposed), this dialectic is contingent and psychological, offering only an account of the limitations of each sphere relative to the others, and how a progression may be achieved contingent upon the emotional recognition of these limitations[1]. Kierkegaard sees a progression from the aesthetic sphere to the ethical, and finally to the religious. The aesthetic sphere, bearing the psychological features of nihilism, involves the restless search for sensual pleasure, and gives rise to a despair born out of craving and boredom. The ethical sphere, however, involves the eternalist imposition of a Kantian ideal of duty according to universal moral principles, and gives rise to despair due to the impossibility of fulfilling the absolute ideals it sets[2]. Since each of these spheres is rational in terms of its own assumptions, Kierkegaard sees no reason to choose one of them over the other, but nevertheless in his later works suggests a non-rational progression from the aesthetic to the ethical to the religious.


Kierkegaard, like many other nihilist thinkers, shows great acuity in his negative analysis of aspects of the failure of eternalism and nihilism, but in his positive recommendations nevertheless fails to break through the dualism he identifies. For the leap of faith from the ethical sphere into the religious, as I shall argue, only reinforces the discontinuity between absolute and relative which I have been tracing through the dualist traditions. If anything this discontinuity is more obvious to Kierkegaard than it is to most other thinkers, but his desperation in seeking a dramatic and discontinuous solution to it should make it immediately obvious that, despite this awareness, his thinking is entirely moulded to it. Kierkegaard’s distress at the discontinuity took the form of a chronic guilt and melancholy which he seems to have absorbed from his father. Like Paul’s, his very consciousness seemed to be ingrained with a sense of existential sin from which he could not escape[3], giving rise to a profound alienation. The solution to this for Kierkegaard, however, is not to question the premises on which the discontinuity is created, but to accept the discontinuity and (again like Paul[4]) turn to faith as a magical solution.


If his alienation and belief in God seems to make Kierkegaard very much an eternalist in psychological terms, his philosophical approach is nevertheless characteristically nihilist (he thus provides a good example of the interdependence of the two tendencies). His philosophical nihilism can be seen in his insistence on the “subjectivity” (i.e. relativity) of truth, his irrationalism, and his individualism. His case for the relativity of truth rests on now-familiar Sceptical arguments, but the selectivity of his Scepticism becomes evident in his assumptions about reason and the individual. Kierkegaard’s distinction between theoretical and practical reasoning follows Kant’s[5], but his conviction that there is no ground of objectivity in practical reasoning leads him to appeal only to the “subjectivity” of the individual, especially in providing grounds for the leap from one sphere of the “dialectic” to another.


The ethical coherence of the individual is thus crucial to Kierkegaard’s conception of “subjective” justification in ethics through the leap of faith. He opposes the “passion” of the individual to the “reason” of the crowd because he sees “reason” as alienated and “passion” as uniting the emotional energies of the individual in a coherence which makes ethics possible[6]. It is only through belief in the individual ego as distinct from those areas of the psyche that identify with “objective” reason, however, that such a belief in the power of the unsystematic reasons offered by “passion” can be supported. Like Schopenhauer’s irrationalism[7], Kierkegaard’s involves a leap over the walls of the systematically rationalised ego only to fight from the other side.


Kierkegaard does understand the existence of the individual in terms, not of Cartesian metaphysics, but of the “ethically existing subjectivity”[8]. Authentic individual existence (as opposed to “mere existence”) is not self-evident but has to be striven for, and it emerges together with commitment, self-definition and significance. As for Nietzsche, then, it is the assertion of the ego’s individuality that itself creates it: yet the fact that the ethical basis of individuality has become conscious rather than being rationalised in metaphysics, does not  save that ethical basis from dualism, if the operation of the ego consists only in its assertion or its sacrifice and no practical Middle Way is available by which the ego can integrate with the rest of the psyche. The leap of faith often seems to be understood by Kierkegaard as simultaneously assertion and sacrifice: an assertion of freedom enabling the existential angst of alienation to be overcome through faith. Somehow by the mere assertion of the “freedom” of the ego Kierkegaard believes its pain will disappear: but this involves only the magical belief I have already discussed as part of the Christian tradition. As Robert Solomon points out, this concept of freedom remains unexamined and taken for granted in Kierkegaard’s writings and remains the central problem of existentialism[9]. Kierkegaard’s adherence to it as the criterion of value, individuality and significance prevents him from understanding the role of psychological conditions beyond the ego and the need for their effective recognition in bringing about the release from angst which he so craves.


If the leap is limited by its nihilist starting point, it is likewise limited by its eternalist destination. Kierkegaard describes the destination of the leap in terms of the acceptance of suffering and in terms of the acceptance of authority[10], but most of all in terms of a personal relationship with God which makes one directly aware of one’s sin and thus capable of re-creation. In this sense one gives up the self through an act of the self, or in Kierkegaard’s words “he forges the chains of his bondage with the strength of his freedom[11]. That this is impossible is not merely the result of the rational paradox which Kierkegaard readily identifies, but because of the psychological process which would be involved, whereby the ego would attempt to abolish the feature essential to its own operation. In the terms of the model of the ego I am applying here, it is analytically true that no action of the ego can overcome or even bind itself: rather the idea of oneself becomes the actual opponent, placed beyond the bounds of the ego as we experience it. What shifts in the course of a Kierkegaardian leap is not the ego itself but a set of beliefs about it. If this argument invokes a rational consistency and involves an appeal to non-contradiction, this is merely the rationality according to which the ego itself functions, orders its experience and thus maintains its existence. But the appeal to the irrational or the wholly other in any form also tends to merely reinforce this egoistic pattern, and the limitations of the sphere of non-contradiction which it imposes can instead only be overcome by an avoidance of the dichotomy.


Kierkegaard’s leap can thus only superficially be likened to non-dualism. The non-dualism which does exist in his thought arises mainly from his appreciation of God as the unknown: but this goes no further than the tradition of negative theology that already existed in Christianity. Kierkegaard makes the same assumptions in identifying the unknown with God as his predecessors.

But what is this unknown something with which the reason collides when inspired by its paradoxical passion, with the result of unsettling even man’s knowledge of himself? It is the Unknown. It is not a human being, insofar as we know what man is; nor is it any other known thing. So let us call this unknown something: the God.[12]


The air of innocuous philosophical stipulation that Kierkegaard assumes here is highly misleading: for the “Unknown” that just happens to be called God nevertheless assumes God’s most basic traditional features of transcendence, personality and goodness. Far from being “not a human being” it carries far more human features than can possibly be encompassed by something unknown.


Nevertheless, it may be urged by modern non-theistic Kierkegaardians that we might make the same sort of leap without making the same assumptions about its destination. Perhaps one need only recognise one’s own imperfection in relation to the ideal, without stipulating too closely what the ideal consists in or exactly how it overcomes relativism. Such an argument would entirely miss the point that the main weakness lies in the very idea of a leap: it is the very discontinuity which that model of moral progress imposes which prevents, rather than enables, the recognition and discovery of moral objectivity. For, in contrast to the model of incremental theorisation and experimentation, the model of the leap by its very structure prevents the recognition of its own error. The destination of the leap by its very nature must be the correct one, for its value is self-constructed, and in this respect it is already identified with a purely theoretical idea of what moral progress requires. Experience subsequent to the leap must be interpreted as favourable to the progressiveness of the leap, for to leap back again in recognition that one had made a mistake would be made difficult by the egoistic identification required in the commitment of the leap itself  (perhaps, indeed, no real leap has been made if such a reversal is possible).


Whether Kierkegaard’s leap is classified in terms of the development of eternalism or of existentialism is ultimately unimportant, since it clearly contributes in important ways to both by showing their mutual compatibility. The faith element in eternalism, that had been developed in Christianity from the time of Paul, gained an unequivocal radical expression through the complete rejection of naturalism in Kierkegaard, whilst the tradition of existentialism which he founded could make use of Kierkegaard’s conception of the leap into authenticity and his individualistic assumptions about freedom. If Kierkegaard is to be regarded as a Christian thinker, his Christianity is so heavily privatised that it dispenses with cosmic justice in all but the most subtle implicit respects, and is so dependent on ethical coherentism and individualism that we might consider his Christianity to be nonetheless nihilist.


ii)                  Husserl


After Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, a third figure who has been highly influential in the existentialist tradition has been Husserl, inventor of the phenomenological method. Husserl himself, however, should not be considered an existentialist, since his motivations appear to have been scientistic. His work began in the sphere of the philosophy of mathematics, where he was in rivalry with Frege, and he sought in phenomenology a certainty of knowledge similar to that which Frege hoped to find in logical analysis[13]. I include him here, however, because of the importance that his work has in supporting the assumptions of later existentialists. His account of knowledge, as I shall argue, is solipsistic in the sense of relying solely on the ego, even if it avoids solipsism according to a more traditional philosophical definition[14]. As such it provided the basis for a similarly solipsistic account of value, even if Husserl did not develop this account himself. Although Husserl’s views changed during the course of his life, this solipsistic account of knowledge is best expressed in his Cartesian Meditations, which will be my focus here.


The position of Husserl gives yet another instance of the strong philosophical relationship between eternalism, scientism and existentialism, and particularly the way in which Kant’s attempt to appropriate nihilist insights in support of eternalism created a fertile source for new dualist philosophies which developed in all these different directions. While Kant provided an important influence on Hegel and Schopenhauer, other aspects of his work were adopted by Frege, and the concept of transcendental apperception, in particular, was taken up by Husserl only to ultimately be adopted to existentialist purposes. The common element in all these philosophies, however, consisted in a search for a certainty which overcame the challenge of the division between phenomenon and noumenon, and all these thinkers attempted to leap across the discontinuity by appropriating the degree of certainty associated with the noumenon (even in entirely phenomenal arguments) and claiming in some way that it was accessible to our experience: either through aesthetic experience (Schopenhauer), dialectic (Hegel and Marx), or logical analysis (Frege). Husserl attempted the same thing purely through the “phenomenological” description of transcendental apperception. As I have been arguing in the case of the other figures, the direction of this search was misconstrued from the beginning because they all assumed a discontinuity between absolute and relative which was an unnecessary projection of the self-imposed discontinuity between ego and psyche. Husserl will predictably prove no exception to this pattern.


A central point of the Cartesian Meditations is the identification of Descartes’ “ego”, the point of certainty found in the mere fact of self-conscious existence, with the transcendental apperception of Kant, which is the self as prior condition of all unified experience. Descartes’ failure to reach apodictic certainty can be ascribed to his failure to take the “transcendental turn”[15], because he confused the transcendental with the empirical self and thought that the “reality” of the empirical self as an object could be proven by a proto-transcendental argument. The certainty that Descartes sought, then, Husserl claims, is to be found in the abstraction from the particular objects of our experience so as to isolate the pure phenomenology which underlies it. At this transcendental level we can discover not only mental activities which are constitutive of our capacity for experience, but “noemata” (the mental experiences themselves, prior to any assumption of their objectivity beyond our perception), a distinction which parallels Frege’s sense and reference, though on a solipsistic rather than rationalistic basis. Comparable claims are also made by Husserl about the certainty that can be attained in the description of noemata as those made by Frege about the logic of reference as a means to derive truths which are both analytically certain and informative[16].


Husserl thus seeks a cognitive holism through description of the transcendental ego. Because, as Kant first observed, all our experience is unified in the synthesis of our most fundamental level of consciousness, Husserl takes this level of description to provide a standpoint of neutrality. Although “natural” reflection gives us an impression of objects, reflection can reduce these apparent external objects into purely phenomenal ones through a process of “universal epoché with respect to the being or non-being of the world” which he claims creates “a universe of absolute freedom from prejudice[17]. Although Husserl separates this stage of “epoché” from the later more strictly transcendental “eidetic” stage of reduction from phenomenal experience to its necessary features[18], it is important to recognise that even the first stage limits Husserl’s method to an egoistic (though not yet transcendental) idealism. The suspension of judgement involved is not one of either realist or idealist assumptions, but solely of realist ones. The epoché thus assumes coherentism to be a base position and the foundationalism required by the realist to be unfruitful, rather than even-handedly questioning both. Though not quite as rigid a response to Scepticism about the “external world” as a denial of it would be, this is nevertheless not a position which is justified by the more open agnosticism which a serious response to Scepticism demands.


The possibility that Husserl’s method in the first stage may be in any sense genuinely agnostic or heuristic is also belied by the claims that Husserl makes on the basis of the second, to which the first is evidently propaedeutic. He insists that phenomenology is the only basis on which the illusions of realism can be avoided.

Genuine theory of knowledge is accordingly possible only as a transcendental-phenomenological theory, which, instead of operating with inconsistent inferences leading from a supposed immanency to a supposed transcendency (that of no matter what “thing in itself” which is supposed to be essentially unknowable), has to do exclusively with systematic clarification of the knowledge performance….Precisely thereby every sort of existent itself, real or ideal, becomes understandable as a “product” of transcendental subjectivity….This kind of understandableness is the highest imaginable form of rationality.[19]


At the most abstract level Husserl’s claims are correct here. The ego provides us not only with empirical self-consciousness but with the “synthesis” which provides us with a unified world-view. The Kantian picture of ego as transcendental apperception can provide us with an understanding of its workings as constitutive of our whole experience that the Cartesian picture of an empirical ego (which is at best momentary, unable to account for our impression of unity over time) cannot. It allows us to understand the workings of the transcendental ego as a series of projections whereby the world that we experience is structured by the one that we unconsciously presuppose. This framework is thus egoistic in the sense that it depends on our identifications. However, there is an entirely contingent relationship between this set of identifications (with its accompanying rational framework) and the individuated self with its claims of coherence. The claims of consciousness with its accompanying a priori structures are not necessarily those of my consciousness or the coherence that I might create around the idea of myself as an individual distinct from other objects, but can just as well consist in consciousness of other beings or objects based on identification with them (and without the identification with myself this consciousness is not mine anymore). The transcendental ego, though movable, circumscribes my possible experience according to the implicit beliefs of the ego at any given time, whilst the individual self merely consists in one of the identifications made by the ego at that time. Husserl’s second stage, in which he appeals to the transcendental,  thus has no necessary relationship with his first stage, which appeals to coherentism over foundationalism, because (as I noted in relation to Kant) the transcendental can be interpreted either in foundationalist or in coherentist terms.


The certainty which Husserl claims here is in any case an empty one, since it cannot even claim to be firmly based on a rejection of realism. The transcendental perspective appeals only to the prior assumptions of all experience and thus offers no ground of contrast between relatively subjective and relatively objective interpretations of that experience. We can perhaps say with certainty that the ego provides our ground for interpreting our experiences, but can justify no further specific assertions about the certainty or uncertainty of specific experiences which will enable us to make judgements useful to science or ethics. If all claimed experiences beyond pure phenomenology involve a worldly illusion, all such worldly illusions are apparently on the same level, and their objectivity relative to one another must be judged by some other standard apart from phenomenology. Any claimed phenomenological “description” must thus prove to be just as illusory as the realistic description it claims to supplant, since no specific description will have the holism which has provided the basis for Husserl’s claims to certainty. Though it may be useful to distinguish “noemata” from external objects, where any particular language is used to describe them which relies on the representational assumption of specific relationships between grammatical objects, the relationship between the objects assumed in that language is just as uncertain as it is in the case of external objects.


Husserl’s fundamental error here is to assume that the only type of objectivity that could be claimed apart from that of the transcendental ego is that of things-in-themselves. This assumption seems to be linked to a conception of the transcendental ego as essentially immovable relative to us: whatever form it takes we are always trapped within it, necessarily perceiving the universe through it[20]. This assumption is similar to that which Wittgenstein put in linguistic terms. This is correct in the sense that we will always have some sort of framework of interpretation (which will depend to a greater or lesser extent on the ego as distinct from the psyche), but not in the sense that this framework necessarily requires the rejection of what may lie beyond it as illusory or meaningless. If we understand the world representationally through a frame which marks the boundaries of our conceptions, everything beyond the frame must be rejected because it is not representational: yet the frame can still be shifted outwards to take in a larger picture, and that shift involves movement into a “space” which existed prior to the shift[21].


Husserl does attempt to deal with this problem and account for the nature of the “space” into which the developing concrete ego expands through his theory of “passive genesis”. This involves the claim that the possibilities incorporated into the strictly transcendental ego are realised by the concrete ego in two sorts of ways: actively in the experience of the individual, and passively in the unconscious creation of a structure within which future experience will be understood[22]. However, this unconscious sphere of our individual conceptual scheme is just as empty as the transcendental ego from which it is derived, since its nature cannot be specified in any other way than through this derivation. To specify its nature in terms of its relationship with myself as an individual would undo the transcendental derivation, whilst to recognise it as the psyche, constituted through its relationship with egoistic identifications, would undo the linguistic idealism according to which those identifications have been associated with an individual.


Like all his dualist predecessors, then, Husserl confuses the ego with the psyche and apparently takes the ego to be a static rather than a developing thing. His “transcendental ego” cannot be identified with the psyche as a whole because of its linguistic idealism, but rather has the rational, dichotomising features of the psychological ego without its specific empirical content. It reduces the limits of our universe to what can be rationally known and explained, even when that rational explanation turns out to be empty. This again indicates shared features with scientism, based on a rejection of the psychological and thus of the opportunity to maintain an objective pole of explanation which a recognition of the psychological provides.


Husserl rejects psychology by distinguishing it from phenomenology and giving phenomenology a superior epistemological status. The basis of the distinction is a metaphysical one: the assumption that psychology requires an empiricist realism which phenomenology does not[23]. But here a false dichotomy is applied between idealism and realism as presuppositions for the investigation of experience. A metaphysics is only assumed in the formulation of a scientific method where the investigation is limited a priori by metaphysical assumptions about worthwhile objects of investigation: as may be the case in psychology when investigation is limited to a third-person perspective on the grounds of the supposed neutrality of that perspective. Other forms of dogmatism may also be applied at any level in psychology, where the evidence considered is restricted in a similar way in order to avoid challenging a theory with which the investigator identifies. However, there is no reason why dogmatism of this kind should not occur in the phenomenological investigation of noemata as much as in empirical psychology, since a limitation to a first-person perspective may be as unhelpful as a limitation to a third-person perspective. In either case the metaphysical assumptions should be ascribed to those who insist on a distinction between noemata and empirical objects rather than those who investigate both.


The lack of a psychological perspective is perhaps what prevents Husserl from making any distinction between a genuine phenomenology (consisting merely in the investigation of phenomena without a priori claims as to their epistemological status) and the use of phenomenology as a rationalisation for subjective identifications which could be identified psychologically. For if we ask what the difference between noemata and empirical objects may be in terms of the psychology of the person making the distinction, it can only consist in the presence of an idea of the phenomenality of noemata. This idea becomes the focus of identification when it becomes the only ground of distinction between noemata and empirical objects, on which rests the special epistemological status being ascribed to noemata. This idea is likely to be narrow because of its lack of relationship to any experience on the basis of which it could be confirmed or denied, and thus the way in which it is held narrow and alienated in the fashion which should now be familiar from my exposition of the eternalist and scientistic traditions. In Husserl’s case this narrow focus on the status of phenomenology can be understood either as a premature holism (in which an idea of grasping the prior conditions for the whole of experience provides a magical key to certainty) or as an individualism (because of its solipsistic denial of any wider perspective than that of the ego).


The sense in which Husserl can be judged “solipsistic” perhaps needs clarifying here. Traditionally it is reserved for those who deny the real existence of others as a natural implication of the denial of a realist metaphysics. Husserl strenuously tries to avoid the accusation of solipsism by arguing that in the basic presuppositions of the ego there also lies an assumption of otherness[24]. The ego in its “primordial sphere” is thus claimed to be not alone but an “ego-community”[25]. What Husserl appears to be expressing here, in the most convoluted and jargon-laden philosophical language, is the psychological insight that the ego (so long as it remains distinct from the psyche) is a dualistic entity which perpetuates itself by presupposing otherness as a basis for opposition. Far from being itself a way of overcoming otherness and the accusation of solipsism, however, this recognition shows that our rejection of others (if we do not identify with them) and hence the Sceptical problem of how we can recognise others within our egoistically-dualist conceptual scheme, is one which is entrenched by the acceptance of the ego as the sole basis of knowledge and meaning. Husserl thus remains a solipsist in the sense that his phenomenology excludes the real recognition of others as they are encountered in the rejected psyche lying beyond the ego. Such a recognition would be an emotional as well as a cognitive recognition, of a kind which cannot be achieved through Husserl’s strategy of finding an assumption of the “other” at a level of transcendental abstraction wholly irrelevant to our actual experience of others.


Given this argument it is not surprising that Husserl fails to overcome relativism. He claims that it is inconceivable that there could be separate “intersubjectivities” of minds viewing the world with different conceptual schemes, because such apparently different views would actually all still be contained within his mind[26]. This response is simply a confirmation of  the inability of Husserl’s system to move beyond the egoism which is cognitively reflected in solipsism. Whilst it is true that in one sense the diversity of views all exist within our own minds and thus share the very characteristics of their conceptual or pre-conceptual expression, this is a precondition for their conflict rather than their resolution. The field of conflict, like that of all types of relativism, is created by shared but opposed egoistic features, rather than by the possible existence of forms of life of which we are wholly ignorant, and thus the denial of such possible existences does not dissolve the problem of relativism.


Husserl’s attempt to gain neutrality through abstraction owes much more to eternalism and scientism than it does to Nietzsche or Kierkegaard: his contribution to the existentialist tradition is thus largely independent of them. However, some parallels can be drawn. All three thinkers turn to spheres of experience hitherto regarded as purely subjective and attempt to attribute a value to them which, if not “objective”, at least appropriates some of the qualities hitherto attributed to objectivity in an attempt to relieve some of the anxieties produced by the Sceptical challenge to objectivity. All three could be superficially interpreted as overcoming the duality between subjectivity and objectivity, but on closer inspection prove to be reinforcing it. But in the case of Husserl, we have to wait for his particular form of scientism to be reinterpreted on existentialist lines by later thinkers for it to become clearer what impact it potentially has on ethical attitudes.


iii)                Heidegger


Whilst Heidegger himself was wary of being identified either as a “phenomenologist” or as an “existentialist”, there is little doubt about the influence initially exerted over him by Husserl, and of the influence he himself exerted over the French existentialists. In any case I shall be concerned with him here, not as an “existentialist” in Sartre’s sense, but in the sense in which I have adopted the term in 4.a.ii above. For this reason I shall be focussing on the respects in which Heidegger continues and reinforces basic dualist and existentialist assumptions, and concentrating on the critical task of unmasking the pretensions to non-dualism with which these assumptions are covered. This focus is not intended to imply any denial that Heidegger also offers a particularly rich field of positive (though often obscurely communicated) insights, some of which may be fruitful to a non-dualist approach, provided that the limitations to his non-dualism that I shall point out are borne in mind.


Heidegger’s approach is consistently holistic in a fashion that is a development of Husserl’s phenomenology. He attempts to reach a description of “Being” by the indefinite refinement of our understanding of our experience. Like Husserl, then, he rejects all discussion of noumena, but he also rejects the subtler dualism of Husserl’s distinction between noemata and phenomenal objects. Phenomenology for Heidegger is thus a more inclusive process, because it involves the consideration of our entire experience rather than the attempt to purify the phenomenological account of all assumed objects. Heidegger thus abandons the distinction between transcendental and ontological perspectives: to understand the framework of our experience is to understand “Being” itself. Philosophy is “universal phenomenological ontology”[27].


Heidegger thus adopts the terminology of metaphysics in a way which attempts to indicate the continuity of purpose between traditional noumenal claims and his own phenomenal ones. His approach is often non-dualist to the extent that he challenges and eliminates the distinctions between metaphysics and epistemology and between metaphysics and ethics, yet this is seen as preparing the way, not for the predominance of epistemology and ethics, but for that of metaphysics, which he sees as providing the ultimate question of philosophy underlying all others. In the very opening paragraphs of Being and Time Heidegger complains that not only do we not have an answer to what we mean by “being” any more, but are not even perplexed by the question (which he then sets out to answer)[28]. In this respect Heidegger seems strongly constrained by the dualist tradition: for despite the highly original and sophisticated nature of much of his work, he continues to understand the most important question of philosophy to be that of holistic “Being” and continues to strain after an answer to it, without apparently recognising that any “answer” to this “question” must consist in an empty and dogmatic false synthesis of no practical use.


Even when Heidegger’s failure to answer the question to his own satisfaction became obvious to him, as he abandoned the projected Division 3 of Part 1 of Being and Time which was intended to determine the meaning of being as a whole[29], Heidegger did not abandon this overall approach. In his later work, it is true, Heidegger appears to recognise that no answer to the question of Being could be formulated in language[30], but this does not lead him to abandon the question but rather to apotheosise "Being" and discuss our relationship with it in theological terms[31]. Here the superficiality of Heidegger’s earlier break with Christianity becomes evident, the condition not for a decisive move beyond eternalism but of the use for nihilist arguments to support a shift from revelatory to naturalistic forms of Christianity. These arguments influenced theologians such as Paul Tillich in identifying God as the “Ground of Being”, but go little further than the Stoics’ understanding of God as immanent, just shifting the theological naturalism from an empiricist to a phenomenological basis.


Heidegger’s general allegiance to the dualist tradition, and particularly the extent of Kierkegaard’s influence on him, is also made clear in his account of the converse of “Being”, i.e. Nothingness. Just as Heidegger sought an understanding of “Being” in the phenomenological description of contingent experience, he similarly locates the experience of Nothingness in such experience. But while “Being” consists in the unspeakable necessity, “Nothingness” consists in the experience of contingency, which Heidegger claims we encounter in a mood of angst or dread.

“Nothing” is revealed in dread, but not as something that “is”. Neither can it be taken as an object. Dread is not an apprehension of Nothing. All the same, Nothing is revealed in and through dread, yet not, again, in the sense that Nothing appears as if detached and apart from what-is-in-totality when we have that ‘uncanny’ feeling. We would rather say: in dread Nothing functions as if at one with what-is-in-totality.[32]


Heidegger continually reiterates that Nothing is not an object, yet continues to treat it as one by associating it with negative emotional states. An alienated philosophical awareness that Sceptical doubt and its awareness of contingency implies nothing except the unknown here does battle in Heidegger with the desperate Kierkegaardian lunge of the frightened ego confronted with its contingency. For "dread", that emotion fundamental to the existentialist outlook, provides not only an insight into contingency, but also the associated fear of the ego that the otherness of the unknown and rejected parts of the psyche will engulf it and it will become “Nothing”, as its own pretended necessity is removed.


This fear of nothingness is crucial to Western dualism. It drives eternalism in the belief that an alternative must be found to it. The analytic tradition, realising that the whole question of being and nothingness is an empty one, uses this as a rationalisation for the avoidance of confrontation with the contingency of its own premises because of the threat of nothingness this is taken to imply. Existentialism attempts to confront it, but likewise in the assumption that the full recognition of contingency is essentially something negative and is thus ultimately to be avoided[33]. Yet this negative emotional response is based only on the assumption that the ego is discontinuous from the psyche and that the ego and its identifications are thus threatened by a recognition of  the contingency which lies beyond it. The duality between being and nothingness is completely unnecessary, and prevents recognition of the contingency of identifications of the kind which might actually aid incremental progress, by confusing such recognition (which is a condition for incremental change in the ego) with the complete denial of its whole field of identification. Similarly, in the epistemological sphere, it leads to the confusion of agnosticism with denial: a feature I have often remarked on in considering the history of nihilism.


Heidegger’s association of nothingness with dread, however circumscribed, appears to be the underlying reason for his concern with Being. For once a holistic approach is allowed to do more than merely recognise the unknown, whatever negative features it offers can only be overcome by recourse to holistic explanation. The only cure for contingency, once contingency is perceived as a threat, is necessity: and to get from one to the other a Kierkegaardian leap is required. Whilst Heidegger does not claim to have found such a solution to the problem of Being in general, in Being and Time he does appear to offer one for Dasein, the experiencing human being: this amounting to the ethical prescription (though Heidegger, due to a pseudo-scientistic descriptivism, claims it is not ethical nor prescriptive) of authenticity. The concept of authenticity provides an attempted explanation at least of the way in which the individual may avoid nothingness, and the apparent meaninglessness that accompanies it, through confronting it but constructing Being in defiance of it. But to consider Heidegger’s account of authenticity in slightly more detail I will also need to consider his auxiliary accounts of Dasein and of time. 


Heidegger’s account of Dasein is an attempt to achieve an ultimately unprejudiced perspective based on phenomenology but avoiding the weaknesses of Husserl’s approach. The “unprejudiced” perspective in this phenomenology does not come from an appeal to the transcendental ego, because to achieve this perspective one must “bracket” the noumenal through the epoché, and thus allow Scepticism about phenomena from the standpoint of noumena. Likewise it does not come from the empirical self, as Heidegger supports the Humean argument that the self itself cannot be observed[34]. Dasein is thus understood as the phenomenological perspective of human consciousness without any assumption of the subject-object division. It attempts to adopt a descriptive position in relation to “Being-in-the-world”, which avoids, not the “subjective” or “objective” standpoint, but the particularity of individual subjects or objects in themselves. Thus Dasein is distinguished both from the Cartesian subject and from  specific objects in the world, but its outlook assumes both the totality of experience and the world in its totality[35].


Heidegger’s apparent non-dualism is obvious here, but like most other attempts at non-dualism in the Western tradition it results only in the premature holism that occurs when a language system geared towards the fortification of the ego tries to encompass the psyche as a whole. The distinct nature of the premature holism in Heidegger’s case, however, is that it is a holism both of the subject and of the object. On the one hand the ego is denied, to be displaced by the supposed descriptive viewpoint of Dasein, whilst on the other the relevance of the objects with which the ego identifies is dismissed in favour of description of the experienced world as a whole. The universe has been shrunk and the individual expanded to encompass the same sphere of coherence, and neither subject nor object any longer provide us with a foundational point of truth from which to criticise this new cosmos, which is at once universal and solipsistic. 


The nature of the description Heidegger claims to be making of the Being of Dasein is that of “formal indication”. Dasein is already familiar to us in our own experience, and Heidegger claims to be merely drawing our attention to it[36]. Any conceptualisation of our experience, however, relies on a framework of interpretation, and Heidegger’s rationale appears to avoid the necessity for an epistemology to support that framework in the face of Sceptical questions. Whilst epistemology pre-supposes a metaphysics which provides some ground of judgement, Heidegger’s metaphysics also pre-supposes an epistemology of absolute coherentism. Either priority appears to unduly fix the interrelationship between theoretical frameworks and the justification for shifts between them, in Heidegger’s case in favour of a theoretical framework capable of identifying a supposed holistic value, or “Being” for Dasein.


What this theoretical framework excludes from the outset, however, is the ego and its objects. Dasein cannot be identified with the subject as we experience it at any one time. Instead Heidegger claims that the general structure of Dasein is care (Sorge), more specifically manifested as concern (Besorge). Here he combines Husserl’s concept of intentionality with Kierkegaard’s insistence that the subject is created through its self-assertion in action rather than its knowledge. The world that Dasein experiences is thus primarily a practically-structured world: our noemata are hence characterised as “equipment”, structured in our pre-conceptual grasp of the world according to their uses[37]. At first sight this account may seem pragmatic, until it is realised that this pre-conceptual way of structuring experience has no necessary relationship to the ego and its identifications. Instead, like Husserl’s phenomenology, it structures the notion of the self according to a specific idea of it, based on limited experiences other than our actual identifications, around which an unfalsifiable coherent structure is built. Heidegger uses it as a way of bringing credibility to his account of Dasein as offering a more profound grasp of “Being” than a cognitive Cartesian account of the subject, and since the concern for Being is itself fundamentally cognitive, Heidegger has to translate his account of our world as “equipment” into an ultimately cognitive idiom. As he puts it, “that kind of concern which manipulates things and puts them to use… has its own kind of ‘knowledge’”[38].


Like Wittgenstein’s, Heidegger’s apparent pragmatism thus turns out to be skin deep: a criterion of use within a representation rather than representation within use. For Heidegger the representation is at least partly unconscious and impossible to distinguish from expressivism, but nevertheless provides the only basis on which we could claim to understand the Being of Dasein. The picture is both “subjective” and “objective”, and thus apparently has nothing to represent outside itself, unless it is some sort of Platonic reality of its own form: but this does not prevent Heidegger from pursuing the metaphysical goal of a representation of this ultimately meaningful reality. Heidegger does not break down the divisions between theory and practice so much as assimilate practice to theory: a tendency which can be traced in his practical errors which I shall return to.


Heidegger’s concept of care is discontinuous from the ego, and the goals on the basis of which it constructs its meaning, because it is understood mainly in the terms of habit. Habits become conscious to us only from time to time, and we may not even identify with them at all. To take Heidegger’s own example of a hammer, he contrasts a cognitive approach to the hammer as a thing with our unconscious “knowledge” of it as equipment: “The hammering does not simply have knowledge about the hammer’s character as equipment, but it has appropriated this equipment in a way which could not possibly be more suitable”[39]. Yet the hammering may be extremely unsuitable: I may continually bang my thumb and curse my clumsiness. The fact that the body I identify with engages in this activity does not prevent me from being alienated from it, and perhaps identifying much more strongly with the extremely skilful, admirable hammering of the more experienced craftsman next to me. If I am to improve my hammering skills, the values which I exercise must be not merely those of Dasein but those of my ego-identity, even if Heidegger has described some of the conditions which I must take into account.


But the values which Heidegger puts forward are those of Dasein as an abstract entity: the individual who decides her own Being through her practices. In Dasein’s very nature Heidegger detects a philosophical striving for knowledge of that nature: “There is some way in which Dasein understands itself in its Being, and…to some degree it does so explicitly”[40]. The type of “knowing” which care offers us is knowledge of the Being of Dasein itself. It is whether or not this “knowledge” informs our experience that forms the basis of the values of authenticity and determines whether we fall into “everydayness”, or fulfil the possibilities of our nature. Yet the values of this Dasein are those of the abstract individual, and the expansion of awareness depicted does not consist in an expansion of my actual identifications but rather awareness of Dasein: awareness of the totality of a coherent bubble incorporating practically-intentional subject and objects. Such an awareness would be limited to identifications that already existed (insofar as these coincided with the abstract individual), unchallenged from without and merely consisting in the fulfilment of the preconceived possibilities that can be the most that make up our knowledge of “Being”. Since this offers us no ground of value except coherence, why should we identify with it and follow it? Why struggle to be authentic if we do not already identify with the ends of Dasein?


Heidegger’s account of authenticity fulfils the expectation of ethical coherentism and individualism that could be derived from his account of Dasein. Authenticity depends on the recognition of three aspects of our being: existence (existenz), facticity, and fallenness. Existence consists in the awareness of the possibilities of Dasein.

We have defined the idea of existence as a potentiality-for-Being – a potentiality which understands, and for which its own Being is an issue. But this potentiality-for-being, as one which is in each case mine, is free either for authenticity or for inauthenticity or for a mode in which neither of these has been differentiated.[41]


To be authentic we must thus seek to understand our Being, recognise our potentiality and choose in a state of conscious freedom and responsibility for our actions. Our potentiality consists in a range of possibilities created by facticity, or previous conditions, which also need to be recognised, together with the extent of our fallenness, or lack of awareness of our individual potential because of our immersion in the conventional norms of the group[42].


Dasein is thus assumed to have freewill, but the conception of cosmic justice with which eternalists placed freewill is replaced with the constructed coherent universe of Dasein. Here we see the eventual ethical implications of Husserl’s linguistic idealism: with the possibility of objects which are genuinely other removed, there can be no objective universe providing standards of judgement to direct the supposed free self, so it operates solely in accordance with its own constructed standards. The sole criterion of value becomes knowledge of those standards and their assertion against the group (represented by “Das Man”, roughly equivalent to Nietzsche’s “Last Man”) with its eternalist or scientistic idea of an objective universe as a basis of value. Dasein is thus counter-dependent on the group, since its idea of a free self is constructed, like that of the eternalist self, but its coherentist conception of the sphere of free action is opposed in counter-dependence to a foundationalist realist one. In this respect Heidegger clearly follows the individualism of Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, the fundamental common feature being the value of assertion against the group. Like theirs, too, the ego to be asserted is not the purely experienced one, but one which is constructed in accordance with narrower conceptions of opposition to the group.


Only the concept of facticity and the requirement to recognise it as a condition of authenticity interrupts this emphasis on the freewill of the individual by also allowing for conditioning. We come to recognise facticity by “attunement”: the process by which different moods, by presenting us with different objects of experience, make us more fully aware of the conditions of our life[43]. This awareness, however, merely forms part of the knowledge of the Being of Dasein that Heidegger wants us to pursue: it does not contradict freewill at all, but provides knowledge of the raw materials that freewill works with. Facticity thus amounts only to a recognition of prior conditioning, not of the conditioning which still operates upon us in determining our apparently free choices. Freewill is still opposed to any such determinism in the sense of being incompatible with it, and in this sense still amounts to a narrow projection of the ego. The recognition of facticity, likewise, does not consist in a recognition of the apparently opposed forces in the psyche, but an appropriation of the raw materials of conditioning by the ego.


Heidegger’s argument about authenticity reaches its culmination in Being and Time in the relationship he gives between authenticity and time[44]. Dasein itself is defined as temporality, this being its primary mode of Being-in-the-world. Inauthenticity is identified with a concern with the present alone, whilst authenticity is said to unite concern with past, present and future, combining awareness of facticity with informed discourse (Rede) about the possibilities for the future. A subjective or private sense of time is taken to be prior to objective or public time, and the latter to be the basis of inauthenticity, as we take time to be an external to which we must conform. The infinite nature of objective time is also inauthentic, compared to the authenticity which can be gained by Dasein when he realises his own death and thus begins to think of his life as a whole and finite experience in time rather than a series of present-points on an infinite and impersonal scale.


Here Heidegger indicates a reaction against the rationalism of the modern era, in which the objectivity of time plays an important part. Science and capitalism have particularly contributed to this over-emphasis on the objectivity of time, with resulting alienation. His approach may be helpful in redressing the balance, but it does not provide a ground of value through authenticity described in these terms, because the other side of the balance is not fully acknowledged. Whilst consciousness of the subjectivity of time can reduce alienation, consciousness of its objectivity can stimulate effectiveness of action because of the challenge to existing identifications that can be created by social expectations involving public time. The ego is not simply caught in an illusion of objective time: rather, it is genuinely part of its identifications as is subjective time. Either or both may also lie beyond the ego, as elements of the psyche to be recognised.


Heidegger’s approach to time here may also be compared to Aristotle’s in his criticisms of Zeno that I have already discussed[45]. Like Aristotle, Heidegger attempts to deny (or at least de-emphasise the value of) infinity[46], for the similar reason that it challenges the comfortable human-shaped space offered by coherentism. Whilst Aristotle’s space is human-shaped in being scientifically comprehensible and Heidegger’s is human-shaped in being compatible with individualism, they both share a nihilistic basis here, contrasting with the eternalistic tendency to appropriate the idea of infinity.


Heidegger’s conception of authenticity is also revealed to have no clear relationship to any non-dualist model when he identifies the inauthenticity of “everydayness” with a concern for the present. Heidegger associates concern for the present with the dullness of “everydayness” and the imposition of “a definite how of existence upon Dasein[47]: in a word, alienation. Dasein is said to lose its awareness of existence, with its future possibilities, and the facticity of the past, in an impatient engagement with the future which brings it prematurely present. Heidegger calls this “curiosity”.

Curiosity is futural in a way which is altogether inauthentic, and in such a manner, moreover, that it does not await a  possibility, but, in its craving, just desires such a possibility as something that is actual.[48]


If the point here is that everydayness must be based on experiences in the present, it is trivial, since both authentic and inauthentic experiences similarly take place in the present. The distinction Heidegger wants to make, though, seems to be one between holding a desire for the future as a possibility and being merely ensnared in a daydream in which an idea of the future blots out all awareness of the present. This is a psychological distinction in which the use of terms of time are merely misleading, as the contrast is between two kinds of mental state in the present, both of which are concerned with the future: a contrast between provisional and dogmatic beliefs about the future. Exactly the same argument can be used to distinguish nostalgic dwelling in the past (another feature of alienated “everydayness” which likewise occurs in the present) from a more fruitful historical theorisation which uses experiences of the past to understand the processes of present and future.


In contrast to Heidegger’s confusing and uninformative use of the metaphysics of time to give weight to psychological insights, a non-dualist psychological account of ego-driven mental events (as opposed to those of Dasein) can reveal genuine and informative correlations between egoism and the temporality of the intentional object. Using the model of the relationship between desires and beliefs described in chapter 2, in which a narrowing of desires correlates to a similar narrowing of beliefs in a dogmatic fashion to the exclusion of observation (or in a sceptical fashion which theoretically emphasises observation but becomes dogmatic in defending its position) the means by which the “idle talk” of the ego confines awareness to within its own constructions becomes evident. The lack of emphasis on observation removes attention from present experience and focuses it on value-judgements about desirable or undesirable past or future events.


This concludes my brief critical survey of the chief dualist assumptions of Heidegger’s philosophy. Perhaps more than with any other Western philosopher it must skate over great  complexity and richness, and I have neglected many positive features which emerge when Heidegger’s philosophy is examined in a less contextualised fashion. Nevertheless it is the overall contextualised features which determine Heidegger’s contribution to the nihilist approach to value. Ultimately he offers no universal ethics: only an individualism which dwells in unholy alliance with eternalism. That his thought, whatever its intellectual subtlety, offers no incremental means of overcoming the dichotomy between absolute Being and the relativity of the individual ego is reflected in his life. The search for all-embracing answers seems to have contributed to his support for Nazism from 1933 onwards, even if this allegiance predictably created conflicts with his individualism[49]. His politics thus reflects the dualistic torments of his philosophy. As Richard Polt writes:

He was an intense man who by nature longed for extremes and hated everyday conventionality and comfort; at the same time, he had been raised in a provincial, Catholic environment which turned him against the cosmopolitan liberalism of the Weimar Republic. In a time of crisis, Heidegger was perfectly poised to become one of the many “revolutionary conservative” intellectuals who supported Hitler.[50]


Heidegger’s Nazism was, of course, situational. To relate his philosophy to Nazism through the strength of dualism existing in both is thus not to particularly vilify him by comparison to many other leading figures in Western history, only to argue that Nazism was created by an extremity of dualism (which in turn was created by a psycho-philosophical climate of dualism in the modern West in general) and that Heidegger’s work offered no solution to that dualism either theoretically or practically. His practical failure in this regard is merely symptomatic of a Western philosophical failure to effectively embrace ethical practice, to which Heidegger’s main contribution is to add more rationalising diversions.


iv)                Sartre


Sartre’s existentialism is perhaps more representative of a wider movement of “existentialism” which arose in post-war France than is Heidegger’s, though much of it is derived from Heidegger. The difference in emphasis between Sartre’s existentialism and Heidegger’s is that between an uncompromisingly nihilist doctrine, incorporating an unequivocal rejection of eternalism, and one which uses nihilistic and individualistic arguments to support an approach which is never quite free from eternalist metaphysics. Both Sartre and Merleau-Ponty reject Heidegger’s fundamental question about “Being” as unanswerable, although they follow Heidegger in seeing themselves as ontologists rather than ethicists. However, Sartre’s (and Merleau-Ponty’s) embrace of Marxism later in life provides yet another example of that symbiotic relationship between eternalism and nihilism I have often mentioned, and provides a reminder that the stronger and more single-minded the expression of nihilism, the more compensating tension it creates towards eternalism: as attention focuses narrowly on one area, other experiences crowd in demanding an interpretation which takes them into account.


Sartre’s chief contribution to the development of existentialism is the development of Heidegger’s theories about freedom. Sartre attempts to provide an explanation for the freedom of the self through the claim that the self is nothingness [51]. Since nothingness is what we experience when something we expect isn’t there, its application to the self means that where we expect to find the self as an object, we find nothing. The self is pure subject. This subject is capable of imagining things differently from the way they are, thus experiencing possibilities which nihilate the fixed being of objects. Freedom consists in our capacity to nihilate, to understand our experience in terms of possibilities rather than actualities. Sartre thus tries to provide a different basis for Kant’s distinction between phenomenal determinism and noumenal freedom, with the same insistence on their complete logical independence. This logical independence also emerges in the claim that freedom is pre-reflective and inalienable[52], whilst reflective self-consciousness provides the point where freedom can be betrayed through “bad faith”. Human beings are free by virtue of the very structure of their experience, of “Being-for itself” (equivalent to Heidegger’s “Being-in-the-world”) rather than through self-consciousness: hence Sartre’s well-known slogan that human existence precedes its essence.


This new description of the free self follows a nihilist strategy which is by now quite familiar: the perversion of a Sceptical argument which justifies only agnosticism into a denial. In this case it is the existence of the self as an object which is denied: Sartre instead turns it into a non-object, thus justifying the metaphysics of freewill on the grounds that non-objects have complete exemption from the requirements we impose on phenomenal objects. If freewill then had no phenomenal implications this would perhaps be acceptable, because empty: but this freewill is assumed to act upon phenomenal objects through the causal mechanism of choice. Like Descartes’ account of the soul, Sartre’s account of freedom ends up as a counter-dependent negation of the properties of the phenomenal world[53], and it leaves him with a similar problem of interaction between types of substance which are initially defined only in opposition to one another. Whilst Sartre would argue that “interaction” is itself a phenomenal term incompatible with the nihilating freedom which precedes it, the appeal he can make here is merely a dogmatic one based on a limited focus on the experience of freedom as opposed to that of determinism.


For Sartre, as for Heidegger, the phenomenal world is itself understood in apparently pragmatic terms. In his Outline of a Theory of the Emotions, particularly, Sartre stresses that a phenomenological approach should seek to understand the significance of phenomena in relation to human goals[54]. The sphere of freedom and the imagination appears to be co-extensive with that of phenomena in Sartre’s account, with an overall pragmatism binding them together. But this attempt at pragmatism is in conflict with the characterisation of freedom in dualistic terms as logically incompatible with determinism. To avoid expressivism and achieve a pragmatism which offers an account of significance that does not merely reinforce the sense that all values are egoistic, it is necessary to remove the dualism between freewill and determinism as well as the other dualisms that Sartre does attempt to remove. For it is the opposition between a sphere (of freedom) with which we identify and one (of determinism) with which we do not which creates the egoism of value, not a theoretical description of the nature of significance. That Sartre maintains dualism in the sphere of value whilst attempting to overcome it in the cognitive sphere of phenomenological description shows that he has not understood the interdependence between these two spheres and maintains a dualism in his thinking about them.


This fundamental dualism has various implications for Sartre’s account of human freedom and values. Perhaps the most important of these is a denial of ethics similar to that of Heidegger. Because Sartre’s values depend entirely on freedom and authenticity as coherence with it, any value adopted beyond that framework will necessarily be in “bad faith”. Bad faith includes not only the denial of my nature as a free agent (through the assumption that I am some sort of determined object, merely acting my role), and/or a denial of my facticity, but also the belief that I should act according to any value beyond that of my freedom itself, since if I were to really experience that moral prescription as binding upon me, it would be incompatible with that freedom. Sartre’s existentialism thus involves a characteristically nihilist rejection of eternalist types of ethics, yet at the same time it attempts to provide a basis of judgement which consists in awareness of freedom.

Whenever a man chooses his purpose and his commitment in all clearness and in all sincerity, whatever that purpose may be it is impossible to prefer another for him.[55]


“Clearness” and “sincerity” are here psychological features, but it is not really clear what they mean (even when we make allowance for their context in a popular lecture[56]) without specifying how far one needs to go in investigating possible unclarity or insincerity in relation to a choice in order to conclude that it is clear or sincere. If the lengths of investigation were infinite, Sartre would be offering another empty Kantian formula for perfect goodwill, but if, as seems more likely, they are finite, he offers us only a coherentism based on an individual’s perception of a situation. However much commitment and sense of responsibility is incorporated into this coherentism, it can make no claims to universality in its basic grounds because universality as a value is excluded from them.


The dualism between freedom and determinism also conflicts with Sartre’s realisation that even an attachment to freedom itself may form a type of bad faith: a realisation embodied in the character of Mathieu in Sartre’s novel The Age of Reason, when his attachment to his own freedom conflicts with his responsibility for the woman he has made pregnant[57]. But if this is the case, then the “freedom” Sartre promotes appears to have no function within a dualist model, for the value he wants to promote has no more relationship to "freedom" as it is conceived in opposition to determinism than it has to determinism itself. If it is really a non-dualist conception of “freedom” that Sartre is groping after here, though, involving a restipulation of the word, then he needs to drop his grounding of the term in a negative metaphysics and phenomenology which implicitly contradict such a restipulation. Perhaps it is to Sartre the novelist, freed from the weight of metaphysical justifications, that we should look for the real moral insights that do exist in his philosophy.


Sartre also gives a more developed account of how phenomenology relates to the existence of others than either Husserl or Heidegger, but his account is continuous with that of both figures[58]. Like Husserl he sees a consciousness of others as having a formative part in our experience, and like Heidegger he sees that consciousness as a source of inauthenticity. He places that consciousness in the pre-reflective part of our experience, but, as I shall discuss further in the next subsection, this does not remove it from the realm of Sartrean responsibility. Even our pre-reflective consciousness becomes the source of bad faith when it is created by “being-for-others”, a mode of consciousness in which we see ourselves as objects in the way that we believe others see us. In one of Sartre’s well-known examples, I am bent over a keyhole watching someone else, myself unobserved, when I am surprised by a third person coming up behind me: in a sudden rush I then feel shame, the onrush of being-for-others in which I realise myself to be an object of “the look” of the other[59]. For Sartre, shame is a basis of bad faith in which my freedom is alienated; but this leaves the moral interpretation of his example unclear, since if we understand it in terms of the dualism of  free authenticity and determined bad faith which appears elsewhere it seems that Sartre is (at best) telling us that seeing ourselves as others see us has no positive role in our moral development.


On a non-dualist interpretation, our response should perhaps be free of shame, but the awareness which is brought into my consciousness by the arrival of the third party should also have been present during the period of absorbed voyeurism. Such an interpretation is barred, however, by the fact that Sartre discusses the case in terms of consciousness rather than identification. When I am discovered, a new kind of consciousness arises, but this is in turn due to a discontinuous shift in identification from myself to the other who is regarding me: without such a shift in identification I would merely continue shamelessly with my voyeurism, identifying only with my own ends in that activity, but with it I merely alienate my freedom as a subject. Understood in terms of a shift in consciousness, then, my being discovered only offers a dichotomy between two different sorts of unawareness or subjectivity, both of which appear to have moral limitations, and Sartre’s account does not help us at all to identify where moral objectivity would lie. Understood in terms of identifications, though, the situation offers the opportunity for the exercise of a non-dualist objectivity through the broadening of identification so as to include myself, my voyeuristic desires, and the observer, in dependence on which consciousness may also broaden. This broadening primarily means the recognition of the egoistic limitations of both the “shameful” and “shameless” responses. I shall be providing further clarifications to this crucial point of the distinction between consciousness and identification in the next subsection.


A similar dichotomy informs Sartre’s account of our relations with others as an endless struggle to preserve our own freedom and turn others into objects[60]. In personal relationships we tend either towards a masochistic approach where we see ourselves as objects, or to a sadistic approach in which we see others as objects. Sartre aptly identifies the many rationalisations which moral discourse can provide for these kinds of relationships, but offers no way of transcending this grim struggle because he sees our consciousness in fixed egoistic terms. Whilst he understands the ways in which identification can switch between “self” and “other” and that this forms a basis for consciousness, he does not see the incremental possibility of encompassing both.


Sartre’s approach to the accusation of solipsism against phenomenology is to attempt to solve it through the idea that others are encountered as persons rather than objects. We know others through the fact that we exclude and negate them.

The primary fact is the plurality of consciousnesses, and this plurality is realised in the form of a double, reciprocal relation of exclusion. Here we are then in the presence of that connection by means of an internal negation which was demanded earlier. No external nothingness itself separates my consciousness from the Other’s consciousness; it is by the very fact of being me that I exclude the Other …. Consciousnesses are directly supported by one another in a reciprocal imbrication of their being.[61]


In a peculiar and characteristic move here, Sartre attempts to solve an epistemological problem (of other minds) through pointing out a psychological interdependence, despite the fact that (as he presents it) this interdependence is a counter-dependence. He then presents his solution as an epistemological one. Sartre has understood here that epistemological and psychological problems cannot be understood in isolation from one another, but he does not offer any coherent explanation which encompasses both. For there is no reason to take the fact of counter-dependence between egos alone to offer any solution even to the moral problem of their conflict, nor the epistemological one of their isolated claims to knowledge. Rather it is the fact of counter-dependence, with its intrinsic dualism, which makes both these problems possible. Sartre has re-stated the problem in its psychological form, but apparently takes this re-statement alone to be a sort of solution. In doing this he blocks further progress towards any actual solution, since premature attempts to solve the problem of other minds tend to interfere with our appreciation of the real difficulty of moving beyond the ego, which is the moral correlate of that epistemological problem.


In general, then, Sartre’s account of freedom and of the relationship between ego-consciousness and others remains deeply nihilistic, primarily because of the implications of his attachment to freewill, and the dichotomy set up between egoistic freedom and the bad faith found in our attempts at moral objectivity. Its nihilism is further compounded by the pretence that Sartre maintained, following Heidegger, that he was not doing ethics.


v)                  Sartre versus Freud


More of the nature of Sartre’s dualism, and particularly its relationship to assumptions about the ego and consciousness, is revealed by his attack on Freud’s concept of the unconscious[62]. Sartre evidently feels threatened by Freud’s determinism, and assumes that the possibility of energies emerging from the unconscious to affect our behaviour threatens his belief in a “translucent” consciousness for which we have complete responsibility, despite the fact that both thinkers were broadly concerned with the therapeutic extension of awareness to overcome “bad faith”. Both thinkers were also impeded, however, by the duality between freewill and determinism which separates Freud’s scientism from Sartre’s existentialism, and Sartre’s attack seems to express the assumptions which support that duality. Both thinkers begin with consciousness and each then makes opposed claims about it which form the basis of their values: Freud that the consciousness of the ego is undermined by forces which are opposed to it by being unconscious, but that psychotherapy can alter this balance to a limited extent by bringing the unconscious into consciousness; Sartre that the freedom with which consciousness can identify is pre-conscious, but that it is impeded by the bad faith of consciousness itself. For Sartre, the attribution of one’s own states to the unconscious was an example of bad faith.


This whole debate, however, is only based on the difficulties created by using consciousness as a starting point. For according to the model I am developing here, consciousness only represents the scope of the identifications formed by the ego at any one time, not the identifications themselves, which shift just as consciousness does but are not coextensive. What we identify with or reject, as a function of the ego, thus does not always coincide with what we are conscious of, even though our identifications form a further interpretative horizon which limits the capacity of our consciousness. We may identify with some objects unconsciously, or be conscious at least of the idea of a rejected object, even if the ignorance of our rejection prevents us from examining it.


The importance of this distinction becomes clear when it is seen that the concept of consciousness involves a dualism which that of identification does not have. Within a given framework of identification my range of consciousness is limited, and thus either at one time, or for the duration of that identification, some objects are at least potentially conscious and others always unconscious. I can extend this consciousness only by extending my identification and allowing my beliefs to be opened to the challenges of new evidence, thus overcoming the dualism of conscious and unconscious in that particular case through incrementality of identification. If I make identification conform to the conceptual model imposed by the dualism of conscious and unconscious by considering identification only in terms of consciousness, however, no such incremental extension is possible.


Freud’s achievement was to realise the importance of recognising unconscious forces which have been repressed (i.e. not identified with), but his limitation lay in the therapeutic model and accompanying scientism, which prevented him from realising the limitations of his own identifications. His scientism particularly led him to stress the value of achieving knowledge of unconscious states, which implied the imposition of egoistic cognitive structures on the unconscious rather than coming to terms with our ignorance of it. For example, this was expressed in his regret that he was obliged to use psychological language to describe the unconscious rather than more determinate physiological or chemical language[63]. Whilst Freud recognised the unknown in the form of the unconscious, then, it was often to appropriate it in a manner reminiscent of eternalism rather than to approach it on its own terms.  The dualism between conscious and unconscious, like those between relative and absolute or reason and emotion, invites this kind of appropriation because of the narrowness of the experience on which the dualism is founded.


One example of this kind of appropriation in Freud’s work can be found in the case of “Dora”, in which an adolescent girl rejected the sexual advances of a male friend of her father’s, and Freud accused her of actually being in love with him (together with her father, the friend’s wife, and Freud himself)[64]. The girl’s insistent denials of this were consistently interpreted by Freud as unconscious affirmations. Despite Freud’s attempts to overwhelm Dora with arguments, he never succeeded in curing her of her hysterical symptoms. This seems to be at least one case where Freud clearly pressed his unfalsifiable claims about the patient’s unconscious processes too far. Even if in some attenuated sense his claims were representationally true, they were not pragmatically objective because they relied on the narrow pursuit of a particular line of interpretation. That narrowness can be seen in the irresolvable discontinuity which emerged between the ego of the patient and her alleged unconscious processes, which is an instance of the discontinuity between rational and psychological approaches when they are falsely separated. As Philip Rieff writes:

To charge that all aversions betray their opposite is as misleading as to accept all aversions at face value. Rejection is a proper activity of the super-ego. To uncover an acceptance beneath every rejection is to be incredulous of human goodness.[65]


One could take Sartre’s criticism of Freud to be a criticism of this kind of appropriation, one effect of which is that Freud takes what are actually features of his own world-view to be objectively embodied in the unconscious minds of his patients: a failure to take responsibility for his own facticity.


However, Sartre is subject to a similar though converse problem which is likewise due to an over-emphasis on consciousness as the model of the ego. For Sartre insists on our responsibility for all mental processes, conscious or not, in denial of the force of Freud’s observations indicating that unconscious drives often condition our conscious behaviour. Where Freud employs a strategy following the eternalist pattern of creating a dualism between known and unknown, then appropriating the unknown, Sartre follows the Hegelian path of the false synthesis. He limits our capacity for actually achieving responsibility for all our mental processes by recognising that we do not yet do so, by insisting that this responsibility actually exists already. This actually weakens the sense and force of the term “responsibility” by turning it into the object of a metaphysical claim rather than an experiential one.


Sartre and Freud can be taken here as attempting, in differing but parallel ways, to address the psychological impact of eternalism. Freud’s “neurosis” and Sartre’s “bad faith” often amount to alienation, which is in turn the psychological correlate of the imposition of egoistic (conscious, rational or free) values upon our resistant (unconscious or inauthentic) psyche. The triviality of the distinction between Sartre’s account and Freud’s can be seen when we begin asking, on the one hand, why we have the reflective or pre-reflective conscious responses Sartre ascribes to “bad faith” (one account of which could be “unconscious conditioning”), and on the other hand, how Freud’s unconscious manifests itself (in the nature of our automatic responses to the presence or questioning of others). Our thought processes in a state of  “shame” for example, may be conscious, but we lack the recognition that it is “shame” we are experiencing, just as we fail to recognise that we are betraying the Freudian unconscious. The need for “conscious” accounts of alienation to be opposed to “unconscious” ones, however, is a sign of the limitations of both type of account in actually helping us to overcome alienation.


In this respect Sartre and Freud respectively represent scientistic and existentialist types of nihilism and their interdependency. Without the  “freedom” stressed by Sartre none of Freud’s patients could extend the bounds of their identifications far enough to be “cured”, and without Freud’s recognition of the respects in which conditioning continues to affect our desires and beliefs, a phenomenological account of the limitations of our awareness would present such a purely abstract idea of our responsibility that it would offer no grounds for action even within the limitations of “therapy” within which Freud confined himself.


Both thinkers represent different types of contemporary nihilist ethic. One, the psychological, is scientistic in that it recruits the absolutes of scientific knowledge in support of relative social norms of behaviour, bringing about a state of  adjustment within the coherentist framework of Western society. This expresses itself in a range of applications from the “curing” of those who are judged “mentally ill” to the use of various therapies or psychological techniques by individuals to aid their adjustment to a stressful job. Another, the libertarian and individualistic, takes only the purity of individual experience to be of value, despite the obvious counter-dependence of that purity. The authenticity of experience sought in contemporary youth culture may offer one instance of such striving, with “freedom” sought in the emotional catharsis of sex, drugs and music. The difficulty experienced in adapting this ethic to an appreciation of the benefits of long-term commitment reflects a similar difficulty in Sartre’s work. “Freedom” appears to represent a universal non-dual value, but can only be realised in a short-term counter-dependent burst of energy before returning to the conditioning of the norm. Though Sartre’s existentialism theoretically may thus have offered the basis for a long-term and more fully developed ethic, Sartre failed to ever offer any convincing examples of it either philosophically or embodied in his fiction. Following a pattern which ironically resembles Kierkegaard’s “dialectic”, it is possible to move instead from existentialism to psychological scientism, and finally to eternalism, all the while encountering no solutions to the underlying problems of dualism.


vi)                The Postmodern Condition


Before finally leaving the topic of nihilism I must take account of one of its most recent developments: that of postmodernism. I shall suggest that the postmodernists, whilst not necessarily sharing much explicit language with the existentialists, share their basic assumptions about value. Whilst they agree that all metaphysical justifications for values have broken down, and that science also lacks any foundation, and, like many existentialists, theoretically attack foundational accounts of the nature of the self, the default position which this state of ignorance leaves us in is nevertheless taken to be an individualist one. Rather than attempting a general survey of the great range of literature which could be described as “postmodernist” to try to support this suggestion, however, I shall confine myself to commenting on one representative work which in many ways typifies it: The Postmodern Condition of Jean-François Lyotard[66].


In this work Lyotard sets out to summarise or “report” on the status of the legitimation of knowledge in the modern world, and in this sense it is a piece of epistemological sociology, the main message of which attempts to be a purely descriptive one: that people have not found any method of overcoming Scepticism either about traditional “narrative” knowledge or about scientific knowledge. At the same time, however, Lyotard points out that the dominant methods of legitimation have shifted towards the pragmatic criterion of “performativity”. Lyotard’s main goal appears to be to attack this pragmatism, together with the main alternatives offered to it in modern philosophy.


Lyotard’s account of “narrative” knowledge is of some interest[67]. The narrative type of knowledge is found in all traditional societies and supports the beliefs and practices of those societies, but it offers no self-legitimation apart from tradition itself. Instead, narrative gives us knowledge of how to live, affecting us in unconscious as well as conscious ways. Interestingly, Lyotard describes narrative as a mode of forgetting, rather than accumulating, information. This could be interpreted as meaning that the knowledge they impart is not consciously accessible, or that narratives restrain us from the Sceptical enquiry which could ensue if we were able to compare the past with the present; for if we live in a story whereby the same patterns are repeated we can forget the distinction. An exclusive reliance on this mode of knowledge thus corresponds broadly to eternalism as I have described it. By eliminating Scepticism, narrative knowledge provides a framework of beliefs that are taken to be universal, absolute and timeless, and the narrative overcoming of obstacles symbolically takes the place of progress in reconciliation with the psyche beyond the ego, providing a magical diversion from (although potentially, also, an aid to) any search beyond the current horizons of ego-identification.


Scientific knowledge, by contrast, in Lyotard’s account is dialectical, constantly seeking the truth but never finding it, through a process of creative disputation or agon[68]. In order to progress science has to tolerate conflict. In contrast to narrative knowledge, it is also a mode by which information is amassed, as the basis for new theorisations. Science, however, contains no legitimation of itself, but rather as a mode of knowledge contains the Sceptical basis for undermining any attempts at self-legitimation. Science has thus turned to the narrative mode to provide its legitimation. Clearly the belief in such a narrative legitimation forms the basis of scientism as I have described it, whilst disbelief in it forms the basis for existentialism.


Lyotard traces, and criticises, two such narratives of legitimation for scientific knowledge[69]. One uses speculative philosophy to provide a unifying narrative for the whole endeavour of knowledge. This is the Hegelian approach, which he takes to be widely discredited in its original form, but he also identifies a more modern form of it in systems theory. Lyotard claims that systems theory has no scientific basis[70], because its holistic approach to systems is contradicted by many conclusions of modern science which are “discontinuous, catastrophic, nonrectifiable, and paradoxical”[71]. He also argues that such holistic approaches can only serve the purpose of being instruments of power. The second type of narrative of legitimation is based on the autonomy of the will, and the idea that science supports the development of the individual by supplying him with knowledge. The legitimation for science thus rests on consensus between wills, the view of Habermas. Lyotard argues, however, that knowledge neither actually seeks nor is linguistically capable of legitimation through consensus, which would go against his Wittgensteinian account of knowledge as developing within incompatible language games[72]. Here Lyotard appears to undermine Kantian and Utilitarian approaches to ethics based on individual reasoning.


Together with this quite effective attack on eternalism and scientism (and representationalism in general), however, Lyotard also attacks the pragmatic alternative which he takes to be becoming dominant in the guise of performative legitimations of science. Since representational truth is no longer valued, he identifies the criteria for success in both research and education as instrumental ones[73]. Denotation and normativity are merged together in a new de facto type of legitimation which Lyotard claims to be nothing more than the exercise of power. This kind of legitimation involves the application only of criteria of efficiency in achieving the desired goals, within which the agon of science can be accommodated only insofar as it contributes to that efficiency. The wealth required to invest in technological equipment used for scientific ends, and the accumulation of information through computers, all contribute to this process by which the distinctions between truth and instrumentality are blurred.


With the rejection of the pragmatism which he associates with this exercise of economic power, however, Lyotard has nothing else substantial to offer as an alternative value. He recognises that the value of “postmodern” science lies in delineating the extent of the unknown, but the moral corollary of this for him consists only in the assertion of particularism. For him this implies a recognition of the incompatibility of language games and a commitment to the universal access to information which he hopes will equalise the power that knowledge represents[74]. It is difficult to see how these values in practice differ from those of Habermas which he has attacked, since he opposes individual equality to the exercise of power, and his criticisms of consensus are not directed against the pragmatic achievement of consensus but only against the assumption that consensus is a goal of science. The celebration of diversity he offers (“Let us wage a war on totality”[75]) appears to offer liberalism on the assumption that it is a default position rather than a positive value with implicit metaphysical assumptions of its own.


Lyotard’s criticisms of pragmatism, then, are unconvincing because they are directed at practices which are in fact implicitly nihilistic. The exercise of power can be morally criticised because it involves the mere assertion of the ego against projections of the rejected part of the psyche, and such an assertion can be rationalised in terms of efficiency in bringing about the ends with which one identifies. However, insofar as those ends are merely coherentist ones which only identify goodness with the good of an individual or group, then, as I have been arguing throughout this chapter, thus far those ends are not pragmatic in a sense which embodies a genuine metaphysical agnosticism. Lyotard’s criticism of efficiency as a pragmatic legitimation should be directed against the ends which are so efficiently sought, their egoistic limitations and concomitant discontinuity with means, but instead he confuses the psycho-philosophical profile of bureaucratic performativism with its superficial pragmatic rationalisations.


The sources of Lyotard’s rejection of pragmatism, and hence his nihilism, can be traced back to his Wittgensteinian analysis of the relationship between narrative and scientific knowledge.


Both are composed of sets of statements; the statements are “moves” made by the players within the framework of generally applicable rules; these rules are specific to each particular kind of knowledge, and the “moves” judged to be “good” in one cannot be of the same type as those judged “good” in another, unless it happens that way by chance. It is therefore impossible to judge the existence or validity of narrative knowledge on the basis of scientific knowledge and vice-versa: the relevant criteria are different.[76]


By examining eternalism and scientism in terms of the knowledge they claim to have rather than the values used in justifying it, he here makes the discontinuity between them an immovable one and prevents any possibility of a pragmatic interpretation which balances the tendencies represented by the values. Like that of Wittgenstein and of the phenomenologists, Lyotard’s assumptions about meaning here seem to point to an atomised representationalism rather than a genuine pragmatism. The weaknesses of Lyotard’s inherited dualistic philosophical framework here are at odds with the acuity of his analysis of narrative and scientific knowledge, since this is actually cast in a form which makes it relatively easy to see how their values can be combined: science requires a narrative of progress in order to reveal the relationship between more and less accurate theories, and the heuristic narrative can also become a psychological quest for universal value. The narrative form of knowledge need not be used with metaphysical underpinnings, but instead used deliberately, with awareness of its own contingency, in the kind of reflective and dialectical context described by Lyotard as typical of science.


The influence of Wittgenstein and the re-emergence of the fact-value distinction in Lyotard points towards a unification of the two currents of nihilism in the form of postmodernism. Even this unification, however, seems to have led to a reinforcement of nihilist tendencies rather than the kind of self-overcoming which some have hoped for. The postmodern condition that Lyotard depicts is in many respects a depressing one, ameliorated by the clarity of observation and analysis that can be perceived in the depiction, but not by much sign of any lightening of nihilism in the most influential forms of modern thought.


i)    Intermediate Conclusion


I will now attempt to summarise, in parallel with the conclusion to chapter 3, on what grounds I can write of the “failure” of nihilism. The reasons are either the same as, or form precise parallels to, the reasons I gave for the failure of eternalism.


1. Nihilist values have been unconvincing. Whether they were expressed in an individualist or conventionalist form, nihilism has depended on a negative metaphysics which is counter-dependent upon, and therefore no more convincing than, eternalism. Where nihilism has been persuasive it was not because of the conclusiveness of the arguments which supported it, but rather by default, because it has been seen as the only alternative to eternalism. The triumph of nihilism over eternalism, which might have been expected, has not occurred because of these limitations. Often it does not even address the aspiration for universal ethics which is commonly felt.


2. Nihilism has been reliant on group support just as eternalism was, maintaining a similar relationship of rationalisation for conventional ethics through metaphysics. In particular, relativist and individualist values have depended upon the conditions created by capitalism and liberal democracy.


3. Nihilism has offered further discontinuity between ego and psyche: either because of the idealisation of the freedom of the abstract subject, or because it was based only on the assertion of the ego against the other, or because of the idealisation of absolute knowledge, or a combination of these. Where there have been discontinuities between absolute and relative, freewill and determinism, reason and emotion etc, nihilism has at best only recognised some of these discontinuities, and has failed to resolve them because of its implicit commitment to others.


4. Because of these continuing discontinuities, nihilism has not solved the problem of alienation, except insofar as it has supported limited and merely coherent spheres of hedonism. Such hedonism depends on an abstract individualism which makes its pleasures of limited duration and value because of their lack of relationship to the actual identifications of the ego.


5. Nihilism has had a similar relationship to government as that between ego and psyche. Its close relationship to liberal democracy is reflected in the limitations of that mode of government, in which individuals asserting freedom remain in constant conflict with a state which is justified by a purely theoretical neutrality. Assertions of authority by the state thus remain discontinuous with assertions of freedom by the individual.


However, like the failures  of eternalism, those of nihilism can also be seen positively as essential developmental stages on the route to a Middle Way. Without nihilism to provide a challenge to eternalism it is clear that no Middle Way can exist. The exercise of Scepticism and the recognition of relativity in nihilism is an essential component of the Middle Way, though in exactly what form they can exist in balance with the need for universal aspirations is yet to be fully specified. This task of positive specification is the one I turn to next in Part 2.


[1] Solomon (1972) p.90-93

[2] These two spheres are depicted in some detail in Kierkegaard (1992a)

[3] See Kierkegaard (1958), e.g. p.51: “’Sdeath, I can abstract from everything but not from myself. I cannot even forget myself when I am asleep.”

[4] See 3.f.iii above

[5] Solomon (1972) p.80

[6] E.g. in Kierkegaard (1958) p.44

[7] See 3.j.v

[8] Kierkegaard (1992b) p.301-343 (VII 258-297)

[9] Solomon (1972) p.102

[10] This particularly in the discussion of how the authority of God prevails over human conceptions of ethics in Fear and Trembling: Kierkegaard (1985)

[11] Kierkegaard (1962) p.21

[12] ibid. p.49

[13] See Solomon (1972) p.145-9

[14] This sense of “solipsistic” will be explained more fully later in this subsection.

[15] Husserl (1960) § 8-11

[16] See 4.d.ii above

[17] Husserl (1960) §15

[18] ibid. § 34

[19] ibid. § 41 (p.85)

[20] Husserl does not see the ego as immovable in terms of its development from open potentiality into more particular habitual concrete forms, but this development is evidently a one-way street from more open to narrower preconceptions which cannot be reversed into more open ones. See ibid. §36-7.

[21] See my similar arguments against linguistic idealism and representationalism in 2.c.iii & iv and 4.e

[22] Husserl (1960) §38-9

[23] ibid. §14

[24] ibid. §44-7

[25] ibid. §49-51

[26] ibid. §60

[27] Heidegger (1962) §7 (p.62)

[28] ibid. §1

[29] Heidegger apparently worked hard on the manuscript for this but eventually destroyed it. See Polt (1999) p.36-7.

[30] E.g. Heidegger (1971)

[31] v. Solomon (1972) p.238-243

[32] Heidegger (1949) p.368

[33] This assumption unfortunately also pervades some Western interpretations of Buddhism which falsely assimilate the Buddhist confrontation with Sunyata (emptiness/nothingness) to existential angst (e.g. Batchelor 1983). The teaching of Sunyata, however, involves the systematic recognition of contingency, and is distinguished from nihilism by the absence of any such positive or negative overtones by which dualities are introduced into thinking about contingency (see Williams 1989 ch.3).

[34] Heidegger (1962) §25

[35] ibid. §14

[36] Heidegger (1995) p.296-7

[37] Heidegger (1962) §15

[38] ibid. p.95

[39] ibid. p.98

[40] ibid. §4, p.32

[41] ibid. §45, p.275

[42] Solomon (1972) p.213-8

[43] Heidegger (1962) §29-30

[44] Solomon (1972) p. 223-7; this summarises large tracts of the second half of Being and Time very briefly.

[45] See 4.b.ii above

[46] E.g. Heidegger (1962) §65, p.379: “temporality is primordially finite”.

[47] ibid. §71

[48] ibid. §68c, p.397

[49] I refer here to the conflicts which Heidegger encountered during and after his rectorate of the University of Freiburg 1933-4, when his idiosyncratic approach to Nazism brought him into conflict with both Nazi officials and non-Nazi colleagues.

[50] Polt (1999) p.113

[51] Sartre (1958) pt.1 ch.1

[52] On Sartre’s distinction between pre-reflective and reflective consciousness, see Sartre (1958) p. xxvi - xxxii & Solomon (1972) p.263-4

[53] This problem of counter-dependency finds its expression as a criticism of Descartes in Gilbert Ryle’s perspicuous designation of the Cartesian soul as a “spectral machine”: see Ryle (1949) p.21.

[54] Sartre (1976) Introduction

[55] Sartre (1948) p.50

[56] Sartre’s statements about the use of sincerity in Existentialism and Humanism (Sartre 1948) can be selected here as the most positive available. In Being and Nothingness (Sartre 1958) on the other hand, there appears to be no escape from bad faith, which undermines all attempts at sincerity.

[57] Sartre (1947)

[58] Sartre (1958) pt.3 ch.1

[59] ibid. p.259-260

[60] ibid. pt.3 ch.3

[61] ibid. p.236

[62] ibid. p.50-54

[63] Freud (1955) p.60

[64] Freud (1953)

[65] Rieff (1979) p.81

[66] Lyotard (1984)

[67] ibid. §6

[68] ibid. §7

[69] ibid. §9&10

[70] ibid. p.61

[71] ibid. p.60

[72] ibid. p.65

[73] ibid. §11 & 12

[74] ibid. p.66-7

[75] ibid. (appendix) p.82

[76] ibid. p.26


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A Theory of Moral Objectivity: quick links to other sections


1. introduction

2a. Psychology of belief

2b. Heuristic process

2c. Psychology & philosophy

3ab. Eternalism

3cd. Plato

3e. Stoicism

3f. Christianity

3g. Kant

3h. Hegel

3i. Marx

3j. Schopenhauer

3kl. Utilitarianism

4a. Nihilism

4b. Scepticism & Aristotle

4c. Hume

4d. Analytic Philosophy

4e. Wittgenstein

4f. Pragmatism

4g. Nietzsche

4hi. Existentialists

5. Integration

6. Philosophical Problems

7. Normativity

8. Middle Way Ethics

9. Conclusion

10. Appendix



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