The Solution to Kant’s Transcendental Ego: Heidegger

      There is a reason why Kant marks the end of the modern era of philosophy. He trademarked many new concepts, but most significantly Kant endeavored to bridge the ever-present gap between rationalism and empiricism. While Kant may not have solved all the problems that create the gap in the first place, he made tremendous strides in maintaining a progression of philosophy. But this does not come with out issue. What Kant gained in development of many areas of philosophy such as the philosophy of religion, ethics, and metaphysics, he lacked in philosophy of the self. This is not to say that he neglected the topic of the mind, for he made an enormous impact on theories of knowledge and how the mind connects to the world, but rather this means that he created a monumental problem in relation to the self. The existentialists attempt to solve this problem, not by using metaphysics, but by explaining how we must live to connect with ourselves on the most intimate and intentional level. Heidegger, a since-labeled existentialist, took Kant’s problem of personal identity as a great devastation and throughout his philosophy provides solutions to achieve this connection to the transcendental ego.

            In his work, Kant asserts that there are things in themselves and secondarily things as we experience them. In the interest of this investigation mainly pertaining to Heidegger, I will try to keep Kant’s view short. As I discussed in my previous paper “We Can Know Ourselves: Refutation of Kant’s Self”, which I will reference throughout this paper, Kant divides the world in two. He proposes that there are the noumenal and the phenomenal worlds. The noumenal world consists of objects in themselves, and this world is outside of the scope of human understanding. The phenomenal world, on the other hand, is the world as it appears to us; the world that we construct through the wiring in our brains. This all seems to make sense, and it does in a certain sense. The way I perceive the world is most likely through my mind (using mind and brain interchangeably here), and the programs therein shape the way we understand the sensory data we receive.

            Rather than receiving a copy of the world that we live in, as many philosophers before Kant believed, we have certain restrictions on what we can understand. Namely, we comprehend the world outside of us in terms of material objects and persons that causally interact with each other in space and time. I would not be able to think of a 3-Dimensional form in a 2-Dimensional way. While this may seem like a silly thought experiment, it certainly displays the confines of our comprehension, as we do not have any evidence that the way we perceive the world is the way it exists apart from us. Thus, everything in the world has two existences: the noumenal and phenomenal. This is where the problem comes in.

            A person is an object just as any other extended substance is. It is understandable that we may not know what it is like to be a pillow, for example, noumenally, but how can Kant say that I cannot know what it is like to be myself? He states:

Now in order to know ourselves, there is required in addition to the act of thought, which brings the manifold of every possible intuition to the unity of apperception, a determinate mode of intuition, whereby this manifold is given; it therefore follows that although my existence is not indeed appearance, the determination of my existence can take place only in conformity with the form of inner sense, according to the special mode in which the manifold, which I combine, is given in inner intuition. Accordingly I have no knowledge of myself as I am but merely as I appear to myself. (CoPR, B 157-158)

Kant asserts that we only know ourselves as we appear to ourselves, not noumenally. As I stated in “We Can Know Ourselves: Refutation of Kant’s Self”, “It seems that Kant is attempting to definitively divide the noumenal and phenomenal world by insisting that we cannot know our own nature. While the distinction of the phenomenal and noumenal certainly makes sense when we reflect how we understand he world outside of our body, it does not hold the same weight when we reflect on ourselves.” (p. 5). Surely we reflect on ourselves, but in a much different way than how we reflect on objects separate from ourselves. To not belabor the point: Kant asserts that the noumenal self (the transcendental ego) is unknown to the individual, thus creating a major crisis of personal identity and the original existential crisis.

            Heidegger comes in swinging on this topic, as the concept and problem of Being (in all senses of the word) is at the crux of his writing. Instead of seeing the definition of the nature of the world as a goal in his philosophy, Heidegger sees the real problem in how our Being is defined. He wrote an entire book title Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics, in which he explains how we interact with ourselves, the being. Speaking now of the problem of being that Kant presents:

With the question of being as such we are poised on the brink of complete obscurity. Yet we should not turn away prematurely but should seek to bring this comprehension of Being in all its singularity closer to us. For despite the seemingly impenetrable obscurity which envelops Being and its signification, it remains incontestable that at all times and wherever the essent appears to us, we have at our disposal a certain comprehension of Being. (Heidegger 233)

Heidegger is not refuting the noumenal self here, we are always conscious of our own act of Being, not only that but we are aware of other acts of being, just not as intimately as our own. What Kant believed there to be no knowledge of, Heidegger believes there to be the most important knowledge.

            Being is the most meaningful thing we can do in life, as that is essentially all we do. While we may be dependent on the “essent”, or facticity that we find ourselves in throughout our lives, we can accept the limits we are confined to and do our best to understand our Being:

Existence implies being dependent on the essent as such so that man as essent is given over to the essent on which he is thus dependent. As a mode of Being, existence is in itself finitude and, as such, is only possible on the basis of the comprehension of Being. There is and must be such as Being only where finitude has become existent. The comprehension of Being which dominates human existence, although man is unaware of its breadth, constancy, and indeterminateness, is thus manifest as the innermost ground of human finitude. The comprehension of Being does not have the harmless generality which it would have were it just another human property (Heidegger 160)

Heidegger argues that the fact that humans can assess their own Being is what makes us different from other material objects. He sees the connection of knowing the self, as Kant would see it, in a noumenal way as the most obvious aspect of human existence. If you observe another human being it is so readily apparent that you do not have the same connection to their body as you do to your own that it seems absurd to suggest we do not know ourselves noumenally.

            Heidegger sees that there is a problem in laying the groundwork for metaphysics, especially concerning the self and our connection and knowledge therein. However, he believes that we can do it, and we perhaps have just been thinking too deeply about it. The fact that we are at all able to be concerned about being (while being), as opposed to only be (in the sense that we do not merely live according to subsistence needs) provides us with a defining characteristic, “Kant, in whose philosophizing the problem of the possibility of metaphysics was awake to a degree found in none before or after him, must have understood all too little of his innermost intention if this connection did not appear to him” (Heidegger 161). Kant did not see what was right in front of him: humans are intimately connected to their own selves, if not noumenally, it is the closet understanding of the noumenal that we have.

            While Heidegger does believe that we have this intimate connection to the Da-Sein, he believes that “Being” is not a strict definition. The being that we are so connected to is in constant flux, “The essence of this being lies in its to be. The whatness (essentia) of this being must be understood in terms of its being (existentia) insofar as one can speak of it at all” (Solomon/Heidegger, 119). Kant may not have agreed that the noumenal properties of anything could be something that is not clear-cut, however Heidegger is clear in his belief that the Da-Sein is not defined until its finish at death. Not only that, but his main concern is not the being of anyone else, but rather the fact that we are only in control of our own,

The being which this being is concerned about in its being is always my own. […] Da-sein is my own, to be always in this or that way. It has somehow always already decided in which way Da-sein is always my own. The being which is concerned in its being about its being is related to its being as its truest possibility. Da-sein is always its possibility. (Solomon/Heidegger 120)

Heidegger so aggressively disagrees with Kant here in that he believes the Da-sein is that which we are most connected to. The world is but an absurd and unreliable place in which we are thrown. We have no control over the society and situation we are born into, but what we can control is how we concern ourselves with being, our being: Da-sein.

            Heidegger states that there are two different modes of being, authenticity and inauthenticity. The Da-sein is always the result being-mine, in which living authentically is living as closely to your own choices as possible. It is to not fall prey to the they, “In inauthenticity, Da-sein falls back to the ‘they’, identifies itself with its facticity and ignores the possibility of its own death. In inauthenticity or fallenness, the search for authentic understanding becomes mere curiosity; philosophical discourse, mere idle talk; thinking, mere calculation” (Solomon 117). Heidegger believes there to be three stages of Da-sein as a result of being a being-in-the-world. First and foremost there is existence. Existence is the exactly what it sounds like: the fact that we are indeed a thing, and we are in the world. The next state Da-sein reaches is thrownness. Thrownness is this apparent facticity of being, the fact that as soon as we are in existence, that existence is limited by the world, as it exists.

            The next step Heidegger sees as a threat to Da-sein is fallenness. This is the tendency of Da-sein to gravitate toward the they. He does not necessarily see fallenness as a bad thing, but rather as a fact. We are first and foremost part of the world, and the inclination to fall into the normalcy of that world is natural. He does, however, believe that falleness leads to an inauthentic mode of Da-sein, of which he also asserts is not a bad thing. He sees what I have mentioned above as idle talk, mere calculation, etc, as a kind of tranquilization,

This tranquilization in inauthentic being, however, does not seduce into stagnation and inactivity, but drives one to uninhibited ‘busyness’. Being entangled in the ‘world’ does not somehow come to rest. […] Entangled being-in-the-world is not only tempting and tranquilizing, it is at the same time alienating. (Solomon/Heidegger, 129).

This falling-prey to the they leads at first to tranquilization and ‘busying’ oneself with meaningless tasks in the world. However, as we see here, it also leads to alienation, which Heidegger sees as leading to assessing the authenticity in the Da-sein.

            Falling prey to the world is rather a fact of life than thing to avoid, but also shows us by alienation that we are beings at the forefront, most concerned with our own Da-sein. We are not concerned with other beings, and the reason behind that is because of the private connection we share with ourselves, the Da-sein.

Falling prey to the world is then reinterpreted onto-logically as objective presence in the manner of innerwordly beings. […] In falling prey, nothing other than our potentiality for being-in-the-world is the issue, even if in the mode of inauthenticity. Da-sein ca fall prey only because it is concerned with understanding, attuned being-in-the-world. On the other hand, authentic existence is nothing which hovers over entangled everydayness, but is existentially only a modified grasp of everydayness. (Solomon/Heidegger 131)

Our tendency to plunge into the they is not strictly due to the act of being inauthentically, but rather the due to the main concern of Da-sein, which is to comprehend. Which brings us to the true point of Heidegger, and how Da-sein, Kant’s transcendental ego in this sense, is defined.

            Heidegger argues that the true definition of Da-sein is only discovered in death. Thus we are beings-toward-death. “Da-sein can be authentic insofar as it breaks way from the ‘they’ to seek its own possibilities, of which the most necessary is death” (Solomon 117). We must accept the fact that Da-sein is a finite thing, we are going to die, and that is the potentiality contained in Da-sein. We can only be a being-toward-death by not fleeing from this reality. With this feeling of being toward death comes angst, namely the dread and anxiety of the realization,

The attunement which is able to hold open the constance and absolute threat to itself arising from the ownmost individualiszed being of Da-sein is Angst. In Angst, Da-sein finds itself faced with the nothingness of the possible impossibility of its existence (Solomon/Heidegger 146).

Realizing your own death is the most apparent catalyst we have for living in the mode of authenticity. Kant may not agree that this Da-sein that Heidegger identifies with so closely matches the transcendental ego, but it follows that we should understand ourselves in a far superior way than any other being in the world.

            Heidegger understands Da-sein possess its own truth, “From this it has already become clear that the Metaphysics of Dasein, as he laying of the round for metaphysics, has its own truth which so far is essentially still much too veiled” (Heidegger 166). While Heidegger maintains throughout his writing that Da-sein will not be truly defined until death, thus “much too veiled”, he believes this to be the true and only self that we have for our own selves. It is impossible to conceive of being without being the personal subject therein, thus connecting us without possibility of disconnect. This is what Kant has overlooked: we are so obviously connected with Da-sein, or the transcendental ego, that it is impossible to disconnect from that. We are so deeply entangled in Da-sein it is inconceivable to not know it or think of something without reference to it. As Heidegger says, Da-sein “does not express its what, as in the case of table, house, tree, but being” (Solomon/Heidegger 119).

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