Monday, January 14, 2008

Winter, Week 1 Meeting - Part IV

I.IV: Das Man (§27)

We began by noting that the various English translations of ‘das Man’ – ‘the They,’ ‘the One,’ ‘the Anyone’ – each have drawbacks. In particular, ‘the They’ implies that it refers to everyone else but me, whereas das Man is something to which I belong, and ‘the One’ implies that it refers to just one, perhaps exemplary, entity, whereas das Man is someone whom anyone and everyone can be (and usually is).

We wondered about the extent to which das Man is the same as, or coextensive with, societies or communities. We noted that there will be overlapping das Man structures at various levels – i.e., norms that govern being at the U of C, living in Hyde Park, being an American, being an international academic, etc.

Das Man is the ‘who’ of everyday being-in-the-world, the ‘subject’ of everydayness. In my everyday life, I am a ‘they-self.’ As a they-self, I am not my authentic self. We briefly discussed some of the difficulties in making sense of this: the authentic self is in some way opposed to das Man, and yet Heidegger enigmatically says that it is an “existentiell modification” of it. Indeed, das Man is an existentiale, so authentic cases of dasein will not be removed from, apart from, or in opposition to das Man.

We suggested that what is distinctive about being authentic has to do with taking responsibility, rather than going against social norms (although sometimes this can be part of taking responsibility). This conclusion came out of discussing tricky examples of ‘firsts’—when someone creates and/or wears the first pair of shoes, when someone becomes the first lawmaker of the Wild West, when someone first comes up with a revolutionary theory. These cases are difficult to situate in terms of das Man. On the one hand, there is something new and unprecedented in such activity, so they look like examples of bucking (or creating) social norms. On the other hand, such phenomena as shoes, law in the West and, say, quantum physics, don’t come into view until they are possibilities for dasein, which is to say, until they are ways to exist, or equipment with which to exist, that can be shared by more than one case of dasein (this is part of the point in saying that being-with is an existentiale). We brought out this latter point by reflecting that even the Wild West bandit is governed by a set of social norms, and can only occur in a social context in which such banditry is possible, for instance where there is already a sheriff to be riled up. Again, this led us to think of authenticity less in terms of creating new ways to live ex nihilo, and more in terms of taking responsibility for maintaining or modifying those ways of living already available and intelligible within one’s world.

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