love, sex, truth

Modern society, according to Foucault, “put into operation an entire
machinery for producing true discourses concerning sex”.
By Roy Hornsby

Michel Foucault’s “History of Sexuality” is an undertaking in nullification
of the notion that Western society has experienced a repression of sexuality
since the seventeenth century. Further to this he dispels the idea that sexuality
has not been the subject of open discourse. The purpose of this paper is an
attempt to explain, through the reasoning of Foucault, that modern society has
implemented the mechanisms necessary for generating true discourses relating
to sex.

Foucault raises three doubts in “A Will to Knowledge”, volume one
of the trilogy “The History of Sexuality”. Firstly, is sexual repression
an established historical fact? Is what first appears to our view really the
accentuation or establishment of a regime of sexual repression beginning in
the seventeenth century? Secondly, do the workings of power in our society belong
to the category of repression and is power exercised in a general way through
prohibition, censorship and denial? His final question asks, does the critical
discourse that addresses itself to repression act as a block to the power mechanism
that has operated unchallenged to this point or is it in fact a part of the
same thing that it denounces and misrepresents by calling it ‘repression’? Was
there really a rupture between the age of repression and the critical analysis
of repression? (Foucault, 1998).

Foucault’s doubts about the conception of repression were stimulated by evidence
of an emerging proliferation of discourses on sex since the seventeenth century.
His analysis begins with an examination of the widely held belief that in the
Victorian era, sexual experience and practice were subjected to a power of repression
(Smart, 1985). Smart (1985, p.95) cites Foucault as formulating a radically
different set of questions;

“Why has sexuality been so widely discussed and
what has been said about it? What were the effects of power generated by
what was said? What are the links between these discourses, these effects
of power, and the pleasures that were invested by them? What knowledge (savoir)
was formed as a result of this linkage?”[1]

Foucault initially directed his work on sexuality to questions such as these
although there was evidence from the seventeenth century onward of a whole new
set of proprietary rules in the domain of sexuality and a growing sense of prohibition,
censorship and general silencing of sexual discussion. He argued that there
was another tendency that became apparent in the increase of sexual discourse
(Smart, 1985). According to Smart (1985, p96), Foucault stated that as the seventeenth
century drew to a close;

“there emerged a political, economic and technical
incitement to talk about sex. And not so much in the form of a general theory
of sexuality as in the form of analysis, stocktaking, classification and
specification, of quantitative or causal studies”[2].

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries a diversity of discourses on sexuality
in the fields of medicine, psychiatry, pedagogy, criminal justice and social
work emerged. This occurred as sex became increasingly an object of administration
and management through government inquiry. The analysis of population demographics
led governments to focus on investigations into birthrate, legitimate and illegitimate
births, age of marriage, frequency of sexual relations, fertility and so on.
The effect of these analyses was a grid of observations that related to sexual
matters. In that manner, sex became confined to the privacy of the home and
the procreative couple and at the same time it became an enmeshment of a web
of discourses and forms of analysis between the state and individuals (Smart,

Foucault shatters the illusion that from the Middle Ages onward a prudish Victorian
culture did everything that it could to silence sexuality when he claims that
sexuality was, in that period, the subject of immense verbosity. He states that
the desire to speak about the repressed nature of sex participated in the very
structure that it was seeking to decipher (Bristow, 1997). Foucault argues further
by suggesting that it is peculiar to modern societies not to consign sex to
a shadowy existence but to speak about it ad infinitum whilst at the same time
exploiting it as the secret. Foucault states that rather than a prudishness
of language or a uniform concern to hide sex, what distinguishes these last
three centuries is the proliferation of devices that have been invented for
speaking about it, having it spoken about, inducing it to speak of itself, for
listening, recording, transcribing and re-distributing what is said about it:
a whole network of varying, specific and coercive transpositions into discourse.
Rather than censorship, what evolved was a regulated and polymorphous incitement
to discourse (Foucault, 1978). Foucault has no patience at all with what is
termed the ‘repressive hypothesis’ as he feels that a society cannot be sexually
repressed when there is such an incitement to discourse upon this very belief
(Bristow, 1997).

According to Foucault, until Freud, the discourse on sex that scholars and
theoreticians engaged in never ceased to hide the thing that they were speaking
about and by speaking about it so much, by multiplying it and partitioning it
off there was created a screen-discourse, a dispersion avoidance meant to evade
the unbearable and too hazardous truth of sex. It began to be spoken about from
the rarified and neutral viewpoint of science, a science that refused to speak
of sex itself but spoke of aberrations, perversions, exceptional oddities, pathological
abatements and morbid aggravations. It stirred up peoples fear as it claimed
to tell the truth as it ascribed an imaginary dynasty of evils destined to be
passed on for generations (Foucault, 1978).

During the nineteenth century Western civilizations developed a scientia sexualis
the goal of which was to produce true discourses on sex. The ‘Right to Reconciliation’
or the ‘confession’, the history of which may be traced back to the first centuries
of Christianity, was the technique at the centre of this production of truth
about sex. Sex has been the central theme of confession from the Christian penance
to the psychiatrist’s couch. Through the confessional process truth and sex
have integrated and knowledge of the subject has evolved (Smart, 1985). Foucault
desired to trace the thread through so many centuries that has linked sex and
the search to identify the truth for our societies. He said;

“how is it that in a society like ours, sexuality
is not simply a means of reproducing the species, the family and the individual?
Not simply a means to obtain pleasure and enjoyment? How has sexuality come
to be considered the privileged place where our deepest “truth”
is read and expressed? For that is the essential fact: Since Christianity,
the Western world has never ceased saying: “To know who you are, know
what your sexuality is”. Sex has always been the forum where both the
future of our species and our “truth” as human subjects is decided.

Confession, the examination of the conscience, all the insistence on the
important secrets of the flesh, has not been simply a means of prohibiting
sex or of repressing it as far as possible from consciousness, but was a
means of placing sexuality at the heart of existence and of connecting salvation
with the mastery of these obscure movements. In Christian societies, sex
has been the central object of examination, surveillance, avowal and transformation
into discourse” (Michel Foucault, Politics Philosophy Culture, 1988)[3]

This intersection of the technology of the confession with scientific investigation
and discourse has constructed the domain of sexuality within modern societies
as being problematic and in need of interpretation. Indeed to construct a knowledge
of the individual the object of the investigation has become to uncover the
truth of sex and to reveal its assumed hidden secret. Sex became our privileged
locus or secret of our being – our truth, and the pursuit is now for the ‘truth
of sex’ and the ‘truth in sex’ (Smart, 1985).

The confession has spread its effects far and wide; we confess our crimes,
our sins, our thoughts and our desires. Whatever is most difficult to tell we
offer up for scrutiny with the greatest precision. We confess in public and
in private to parents, educators, doctors, loved ones in pleasure and in pain,
things that would be impossible to tell anyone else. The confession can be voluntary
or wrung from a person by violence or the threat of it. Sex, albeit hidden we
are told, has been the privileged theme of confession from the Christian penance
to the present day. The transformation of sex into discourse along with the
dissemination and reinforcement of heterogeneous sexualities are all linked
together with the help of the central element of the confession which compels
individuals to express their sexual peculiarity no matter how extreme it may
be (Foucault, 1978).

The confession is a ritual of discourse in which the speaking subject is also
the subject of the statement and it is also a ritual of power manifested by
the presence of another. The other becomes the authority who requires the confession
in order to arbitrate upon it. Through the complete expression of an individual
secret, truth and sex are joined but it is the truth which serves as the medium
for sex and its manifestations. The end result of this ritual produces fundamental
changes in the person who expresses it as it exonerates and liberates him with
the promise of salvation. It is the bond between the one who speaks and what
he is speaking about within the intimacy of discourse that warrants the integrity
of the confession. The dominant agency does not reside within the constraint
of the person who speaks but rather within the one who listens and says nothing;
neither does it reside within the one who knows and answers but within the one
who questions and is not supposed to know. The discourse of truth takes effect
finally however, from the one from whom it was wrested and not from the one
who receives it (Foucault, 1978).

The possibility exists that sexual discourses merely served to provide a foundation
for imperatives aimed at the eradication of ‘unproductive’ forms of sexuality.
That perhaps all of the forms of discourse had as their end the cultivation
of a vital population, reproduction of labour capacity and the prevailing social
relations. Foucault argues that if the discourses were aimed at eliminating
fruitless pleasures then they had failed, for by the nineteenth century a multiple
implantation of perversions and a dispersion of sexualities had occurred. He
suggests that non-conjugal, non-monogamous sexualities were not prohibited or
eliminated by the power of the discourse of the confessional but that they were
incited and multiplied. As a consequence a proliferation of unorthodox sexualities
has eventuated. It is the sanctity accorded to the heterosexual monogamy in
the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that has as its natural consequence
the incitement to confession of a multitude of sexual perversions that were
deemed as unnatural or abnormal equivalents to the ‘regular’ sexuality of the
‘acceptable’ couple (Smart, 1985).

Foucault informs us that historically there have been two main procedures for
producing the truth of sex. Societies such as China, Japan, India, Rome and
the Arabo-Muslim societies granted to themselves the ars erotica, and from this
erotic art, truth is drawn from the pleasure in itself. The practice is understood
and experienced while pleasure is not defined in relation to the permitted or
the forbidden. Our society has broken with the tradition of ars erotica and
bestowed upon itself a scientia sexualis by adapting the ancient procedure of
the confession to the rules of scientific discourse. Nearly one hundred and
fifty years have gone into the making of the complex machinery for producing
true discourses on sex and the enablement of the truth of sex and its pleasures
to be embodied in a thing called ‘sexuality’ (Foucault, 1978).

The immense extortion of the sexual confession came to be constituted in scientific
terms in the following ways; a clinical codification of the inducement to speak,
the postulate of a general and diffuse causality, the principle of a latency
intrinsic to sexuality, the method of interpretation, the medicalisation of
the effects of confession (Foucault, 1978, pp 65-67). Foucault has rationalized
that contrary to the opinion that the society of the nineteenth century had
little dialogue relating to sex, that they did in fact put into operation an
entire machinery for producing true discourses about it. To Foucault the censorship
and taboos on the mentioning of sexual topics are secondary, or perhaps even
complimentary to the explosion of discourses on sexuality (Cousins & Hussain,
1984). This society conceived a new type of pleasure as it endeavoured to create
the homogeneous truth concerning sex: pleasure in the truth of pleasure.

[1] Smart is citing a passage from The History
of Sexuality, Vol 1, p 11, Hurley, R. (trans). back

[2] Ibid., pp. 23-4 back

[3] Originally published as “Foucault:
Non au sexe roi” in Le Nouvel observateur, March 12, 1977, this interview
was translated by David J. Parent as “Power and Sex,” in Telos 32
(1977), pp. 152-61 back

References:Bristow, J. 1997, Sexuality,Routledge, Great Britain.Cousins, M. & Hussain, A., 1984, Michel Foucault, Theoretical Traditions
in the Social Sciences,
Macmillan Education Ltd., London.

Foucault, M., Levy, B-H. 1988, Michel Foucault, Politics Philosophy Culture,
Kritzman, L., ed., Routledge, Chapman & Hall, Inc., New York.

Foucault, M. 1998, The Will to Knowledge, The History of Sexuality Volume
Hurley, R., trans., Penguin Books, Great Britain.

Smart, B. 1988, Michel Foucault, Routledge, London.


What does Levinas consider to be the relative strengths (and weaknesses) of Phenomenology?; and how does his own philosophical perspective differ from that of Husserl and Heidegger?
By Roy Hornsby

The phenomenology of Edmund Husserl entails the meticulous study of lived experience from which the essential and universal truths of all experience can be derived. This phenomenological method allows the consciousness to recognize an intentionality that can allow objects to emerge meaningfully. Rather than being seen as pure cogito the human experience can now be seen to continually lead toward something in the real world. The relationship between logical judgement and perceptual experience is revealed and “Truth and meaning are generated.”[1] Martin Heidegger rejected some of the central features of Husserl’s phenomenology whilst retaining and building upon the notion of it. In his work “Being and Time” Heidegger discards the idea that purely conscious states of objects can be examined through isolation and shifts the attention from the existence of beings to our very understanding of Being.  Emmanuel Levinas was indebted to the work of both Husserl and Heidegger and to the phenomenology of this time as it was most influential upon his own work (Hand 1989). The purpose of this paper is to examine Levinas’s position with regard to phenomenology and further, to discuss how his own philosophical perspective differed from that of both Husserl and Heidegger.

Levinas considered that the phenomenological method taught the philosopher to meet the world head-on while radically questioning the manner in which that world is presented and that this was its principal and abiding contribution. Both Ricoeur and Sartre acknowledged that Levinas played an important part in the discovery and dissemination of phenomenology within France, but it was also Levinas who was instrumental in the dismantling of its prestige (Davis 1996).

In his dialogue with Richard Kearney (1986), Levinas stated that Husserl’s phenomenology was a methodological disclosure of how we come to understand meaning and how that meaning emerges in our conscious and deliberate relationship with the world. Levinas said;

“The phenomenological method enables us to discover meaning within our lived experience; it reveals consciousness to be an intentionality always in contact with objects outside of itself other than itself. Human experience is not some self-transparent substance or pure cogito; it is always intending towards something in the world that preoccupies it. The phenomenological method permits consciousness to understand its own preoccupations, to reflect upon itself and thus discover all the hidden or neglected horizons of its intentionality.”[2]

Levinas maintained that it is through phenomenology that we learn that our consciousness, while being tied to its object of experience is able to detach itself from this object and return upon itself and focus on relationships of intentionality, at which point the object itself becomes apparent as a meaningful part of our lived experience (Levinas 1986).

Through Husserl, Levinas discovered a method of philosophical investigation that relied upon neither dogma nor muddled presentiment that became the basis of his own intellectual undertaking. Levinas continually quoted and discussed Husserl’s main texts and ideas and although he came to discard many ideas at the core of Husserl’s work, Levinas never fully abandoned the phenomenological method. Both Husserl and Heidegger characterised the philosophical originality of phenomenology through the slogan ‘Back to the things themselves’, but found that returning to the things themselves was more difficult than they had expected. Husserl aimed to provide a stable philosophical underpinning for the natural sciences by reflecting upon the role of observing consciousness in the structure of the observed world. According to Husserl, only apodictic[3] knowledge is completely secure and even then it must be reflected upon for, as Descartes had suggested, the evidence of the senses can be misleading. Intentionality, which plays a significant part in Levinas’s analysis and critique of phenomenology, declares that “all consciousness is conscious of something, that all mental acts (for example perception or memory) have an object.” [4] But even though intentionality implies an association beyond the self it does not give it apodictic certainty (Davis 1996).

Husserl followed a process of phenomenological reduction (epoché) which he compared to Cartesian doubt and declared that apodictic certainty can only come about if everything that can be doubted can be bracketed off. This meant that the return to the things themselves begins by putting into doubt the existence of the very things to which it aims to return. Husserl aimed to leave only consciousness itself by including the bracketing off of the existence of the external world and, significantly, the existence of all other consciousnesses. For Husserl, it is possible to be conscious of an object whilst still doubting the objective existence of that object without doubting the reality of ones own consciousness.  The epoché discloses a transcendental Ego which is not a part of the objective natural order but signifies the knowable world through intentional acts. So, for Husserl “consciousness is primary and absolute and the transcendental Ego is the first apodictic certainty from which all others must be derived.”[5] (Davis 1996).

Getting back to the things themselves inevitably involves reflection about the ways in which the Ego observes and encounters those things as the object of attention cannot be separated from the consciousness that intends it. As this line of thinking could easily lead to the belief that only oneself and ones own experience exists, (solipsism), Husserl demonstrated a further epoché which he called a ‘reduction of transcendental experience to the sphere of ownness’. This was an even more radical reduction than the first which Husserl said would reveal the apodicticity of not only other egos but the external world as well. In revealing what is firstly and unquestionably ‘mine’ this second reduction now attempts to dispose of all hypotheses regarding other subjects. Through these processes, the phenomenologist determines a level of experience that cannot be further reduced and discovers that the transcendental Ego possesses a body which interacts with the physical world, a world in which is inhabited by creatures which are similar to itself (Davis 1996).

For Levinas, Husserl’s main achievement was the liberation of philosophy from the stranglehold of naturalist epistemology through his re-thinking of the notion of the phenomenon. Levinas insisted that phenomenology is a philosophy of freedom and tended to ignore any conflicts that may arise when the intentions of a consciousness come upon a potentially hostile world. However, at an early stage in Levinas’s thinking he did present two avenues of criticism with Husserl’s ideas. Firstly, Levinas was critical of Husserl’s reflexive and contemplative consciousness as revealed through phenomenological reduction, placing historicity and temporality not as the very conditions of the transcendental Ego but as secondary properties. Secondly, and with time, more significantly, Levinas alluded to problems of intersubjectivity and the existence of other minds posed by the theory of the transcendental Ego (Davis 1996).

Levinas acknowledged that his reading of Husserl was heavily influenced by Heidegger and portrayed Husserl as laying the groundwork for Heidegger’s work. Accordingly, Levinas searched for those traces in Husserl’s writings that anticipated Heidegger’s transformation of phenomenology (Davis 1996). Levinas said that Heidegger’s philosophy, “completely altered the course and character of European philosophy.” And that “Being and Time, which is much more significant and profound than any of Heidegger’s later works, represents the fruition and flowering of Husserlian phenomenology.” [6]

Heidegger provided Levinas with a way of understanding Beings and beings, represented by the fact that they are always engaged in time and history. Levinas finds in Heidegger a philosophy completely immersed in the world, in experience, facticity and desire. Because Being is characterized as the mode of existence of beings by Heidegger, phenomenology and ontology were no longer in conflict and Being is that which beings understand and seek to know (Davis 1996).

However, Heidegger’s inquiry into Being was through the analysis of Dasein, (Being-in-the-World), and the underlying principle of Dasein is that it is the only being for whom Being is an issue. The Being of Dasein relates to itself with an elemental characteristic referred to as ‘mineness’, the way in which each person is responsible for their own self fashioning with individuals acting in accordance with the situation in which they find themselves to the exclusion of others. For Heidegger, the self understands the other as another self. Levinas became critical of this procedure of Heidegger’s because it reduced reality to what it can appropriate for the use of Dasein. In opposition to what he called this “egology”, Levinas contended that we are confronted with an incomprehensible something that challenges the independence of our actions. That something, he argues is the “Other” or, the moral relationship that we have with another person. Because the nature of the Other is totally beyond our understanding, our methodology cannot attempt to understand it, even though our very own subjectivity is “grounded” in this association with the Other. The argument that Levinas put forward was that it is only through ethical language that this transcendence can be articulated and, importantly, any understanding of reality must emerge from within the acceptance of a radical responsibility for the Other (Furrow 1995).

Levinas’s analytical engagement with phenomenology diverged during the nineteen thirties and forties. He developed his own unique positions which were indebted to his teachers but at the same time departed from them. Levinas undertook detailed critiques of Husserlian phenomenology and the premises of Heideggerian ontology. By 1940 Levinas doubted that “intentionality can ensure the self-transcendence of consciousness through the encounter with something other than itself: as conscious of something”[7] and be a mode of contact with the external world. Levinas believed that the intentional object lay outside of the subject, but he was equally adamant that intentionality created a monadic subject that is closed in upon itself and sealed off from the outside world and discerning only those meanings that it itself has created (Davis 1996).

Levinas was afraid that if meaning was given solely by the subject instead of originating in the world, “then consciousness cannot experience, perceive or learn anything that it did not already contain.”[8] He was concerned that the consciousness should encounter something other than itself, but he was aware that the theory of intentionality may preclude the consciousness from ever meeting anything that is truly alien to itself if the external world is a product of its own activity (Davis 1996).

Levinas also discovered the contradiction that while phenomenology was predicated on the privilege of presence there is an implication that that presence is initially split and never possessed completely. It followed for Levinas that if an object is not present to itself then it would not easily be re-presented to a transcendental Ego with an insecure self-presence. In 1959 Levinas wrote,

“Phenomenology is a destruction of the representation of the theoretical object. It denounces the contemplation of the object – (which, however, it seems to have encouraged) – as an abstraction, as a partial vision of Being, as a forgetting, one might say in modern terms, of its truth. [9]

For Levinas, because the object can never be completely and impartially encountered as it is, it can never be re-presented to the subject (Davis 1996).

Heidegger’s individual Dasein was called back from its lostness in the ‘they’ into the lone undertaking of an accurate retrieval of its past, and a prognosis of the potential of its future. Individual Dasein is concerned with its life as a whole because of its concern with its eventual demise as Being-toward-death, the one possibility that summons a person to take responsibility for their own existence. Heidegger contended that one must recognize ones own finitude to be able to live authentically and that ones possibilities cannot be shared. Thus, for Heidegger, social relationships play no part in the solitary condition which is the self actualization process (Furrow 1995). However, Levinas does not view death in this way. He does not see death as the proof of ‘mineness’, but that the proper ethical reaction would be to view it as the death of the other and so recognize the limits of the possible in suffering (Hand 1989). Levinas wrote,

“Death in Heidegger is an event of freedom, whereas for me the subject seems to reach the limit of the possible in suffering. It finds itself enchained, over-whelmed, and in some way passive. Death is in this sense the limit of idealism.”[10]

For Levinas, death is that which lies irretrievably beyond experience, cannot be seen known or comprehended and it marks “the end of the subject’s virility and heroism”[11]

For Levinas, Heidegger’s Dasein and Husserl’s transcendental Ego are fundamentally solitary, but this solitude is broken by death because there is the likelihood of an encounter with something outside of the self.  The onset of death indicates to the subject that an event is about to take place that is totally alien and that evades the dominion of intentionality and the understanding of Being. Levinas wrote,

“This approach of death indicates that we are in relation with something that is absolutely other, something bearing alterity not as a provisional determination we can assimilate through enjoyment, but as something whose very existence is made of alterity. My solitude is thus not confirmed by death but broken by it.”[12]

Levinas maintained that the Other is established by alterity and is not another self, it is not knowable and consequently not compliant to the knowledge claims of the phenomenologists, and upsets the self enclosed totality of a world portrayed as harmonious and in communion (Davis 1996).

Levinas saw the social relation as not being constituted by a shared understanding or common interests, and he did not understand autonomy to be a conscious disconnection from this social perspective. Accordingly, there was an unmediated relationship between the absolute alterity of the other person and the total passivity of the self (Davis 1996). Levinas rejected the synthesizing of phenomena in favour of a thought that is open to the face of the other. The face signifies the philosophical precedence of the existent over Being and creates an uneven indebtedness on the part of one person towards the moral summons of the Other. This is not a summons that is based upon prior knowledge but on the right of the other to exist and, importantly, on the edict that “Thou shalt not kill” (Hand 1989). Levinas said,

“Responsibility for the other, this way of answering without a prior commitment, is human fraternity itself, and it is prior to freedom. The face of the other in proximity, which is more than representation, is an unrepresentable trace, the way of the infinite.”[13]

For Levinas, the foundation of social reality is the tangible naked presence of another human face, the recognition of otherness, but without any regard for social standing, capability, appearance etc. that would draw the Other into the influence of a shared understanding. What secures the relationship between self and Other is the complete difference between the two, because the Other is what I myself am not (Furrow 1995). As a consequence, to be oneself is to be for the other (Hand 1989).

To Levinas, both Husserl and Heidegger seemed at first to have presented philosophy with systems that enabled investigation of experiential relationships to meaning, subjectivity and Being enabling a new direction for philosophy. But over time Levinas began to see that their advances were associated with a failure to think outside of the traditional lines of philosophy (Davis 1996). Levinas is critical of Heidegger for not escaping the Greek language of intelligibility and presence. Additionally, although Heidegger presaged the end of a metaphysics of presence, he sustained the notion of being as a coming-into-presence and didn’t appear to be able to break away from the dominion of the presence that he condemned. Levinas maintained, against Heidegger, that philosophy could be ethical as well as ontological, and could be at the one time Greek and non-Greek in its inspiration (Levinas 1986).

Levinas’s dissatisfaction with phenomenology developed into a criticism of western philosophy for its failure to think of the Other as Other. Levinas wrote,

“Western philosophy coincides with the unveiling of the other in which the Other, by manifesting itself as a being, loses its alterity. Philosophy is afflicted, from its childhood, with an insurmountable allergy: a horror of the Other which remains the Other. It is for this reason that philosophy is essentially the philosophy of Being: the comprehension of Being is its final word and the fundamental structure of man.”[14]

He compared philosophy to the story of Ulysses who “through all his wanderings only returns to his native island” [15] but preferred the story of Abraham, “To the myth of Ulysses returning to Ithaca, we would like to oppose the story of Abraham leaving his country for ever to go to a still unknown land and forbidding his servant to take even his son back to this point of departure.”[16] According to Davis (1996) it was Levinas’s enterprise to take philosophy to other than the familiar ground of Being, Truth and the Same, and to make it receptive to an engagement with what had hitherto been suppressed. Davis (1996), continues that the problem of the Other has been posed incorrectly; rather than looking for knowledge of it (and thereby reducing its otherness), what needs to be recognized “is that we do not, cannot and should not know the other.”[17]

Levinas admitted that his method was not phenomenological to the end when he explained a situation where his dialectic is accomplished. He wrote,

“The relationship with the Other, the face-to-face with the Other, the encounter with a face that at once gives and conceals the Other, is the situation in which an event happens to a subject who does not assume it, who is utterly unable in its regard, but where none the less in a certain way it is in front of the subject. The other ‘assumed’ is the Other.”[18]

Levinas spent a quarter of a century studying Husserl and Heidegger as well as laying the ground work for a critique of phenomenology. In doing so he isolated the ethical gap required in the suppression of the Other. Levinas urged us to think along the existential plane and to recall that we have an ethical responsibility that pre-exists us. In addition, he urged us to recall that ethics are trans-mundane and that the ethical relationship should occur prior to moralities. Levinas asked us to remember the ‘human-qua-human’ instead of the ‘human-qua-citizen’.

[1] In Hand, S. 1989, ‘Introduction’ in The Levinas Reader, ed Hand, S., Blackwell Publishers Ltd., Oxford,

p 2.

[2] In Levinas, E. 1986, ‘Dialogue With Emmanuel Levinas’ in Face to Face With Levinas, p 14.

[3] Apodictic, (Gk – showing what to prove). Necessarily true or provable or possessing certainty beyond dispute.

[4] In Davis, C. 1996, Levinas: An Introduction, University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, p 10.

[5] Ibid., p 11.

[6] In Levinas, E. 1986, ‘Dialogue With Emmanuel Levinas’ in Face to Face With Levinas, p 15.

[7] In Davis, C. 1996, Levinas: An Introduction, University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, pp 18-19.

[8] In Ibid. p 19.

[9] In Levinas, E. 1974, En decouvrant l’existence avec Husserl et Heidegger, Vrin, Paris.p 114, as cited in Davis, C. 1996, Levinas: An Introduction, University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, p 20.

[10] In Levinas, E. 1989b, ‘Time and the Other’ in The Levinas Reader, Cohen, R. (trans), ed Hand, S., Blackwell Publishers Ltd., Oxford, p 41.

[11] Ibid., p 41.

[12] Ibid., p 43.

[13] In Levinas, E. 1989a, ‘Substitution’ in The Levinas Reader, Lingis, A. (trans), ed Hand, S., Blackwell Publishers Ltd., Oxford, p 106.

[14] In Levinas, E. 1974, En decouvrant l’existence avec Husserl et Heidegger, Vrin, Paris, p 188 as cited in Davis, C. 1996, Levinas: An Introduction, University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, p 32.

[15] Ibid., p 188, as cited in Ibid., p 33.

[16] Ibid., p 191, as cited in Ibid., p 33.

[17] In Davis, C. 1996, Levinas: An Introduction, University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, p 33.

[18] In Levinas, E. 1989b, ‘Time and the Other’ in The Levinas Reader, Cohen, R. (trans), ed Hand, S., Blackwell Publishers Ltd., Oxford, p 45.


Davis, C. 1996, Levinas: An Introduction, University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame.

Furrow, D. 1995, ‘Levinas: Ethics Without Limit’ in Against Theory: Continental and Analytic Challenges in Moral Philosophy,

Routledge, New York, pp. 139-160.

Hand, S. 1989, ‘Introduction’ in The Levinas Reader, ed Hand, S., Blackwell Publishers Ltd., Oxford, pp. 1-8.

Levinas, E. 1974, En decouvrant l’existence avec Husserl et Heidegger, Vrin, Paris.

Levinas, E. 1986, ‘Dialogue With Emmanuel Levinas’ in Face to Face With Levinas, pp. 13-33.

Levinas, E. 1989a, ‘Substitution’ in The Levinas Reader, Lingis, A. (trans), ed Hand, S., Blackwell Publishers Ltd., Oxford, pp. 88-125.

Levinas, E. 1989b, ‘Time and the Other’ in The Levinas Reader, Cohen, R. (trans), ed Hand, S., Blackwell Publishers Ltd., Oxford, pp. 37-58.


It is nigh impossible to think of ‘the ethical’ or moral consciousness outside of the sphere of language (i.e. Communication)”. A discussion in relation to the work of Jurgen Habermas.
By Roy Hornsby

“Neo-historicism bases itself upon a supposition which is represented today in practical philosophy by the neo-Aristotelians. It is supposed that a praxis makes itself understandable and allows itself to be judged only in relation to the life contexts and traditions in which it is embedded. That is plausible, as long as we can have confidence that practices, as they are passed on and endure from one generation to another, prove their worth only on the basis of this stability of tradition. This conviction expresses a type of anthropological basic trust [Urverlrauenj].

Historicism lives off this trust. Such trust is not completely unintelligible. In some way we do rely – in spite of all the spontaneous, natural bestiality in the history of the world – upon a deep-seated layer of solidarity in the face-to-face intercourse of human beings with one another. The questionless continuity of what is handed down to us also draws its sustenance from this trust. “Tradition” means just that we carry something forward as unproblematic which others began before us. We imagine normally that these “forerunners,” if they were to meet us face-to-face, could not totally deceive us, could not play the role of a deus malignus. I believe that exactly this basis of trust was destroyed at the threshold of the gas chambers.

The complex preparation and the elaborate organisation of a coolly calculated mass murder, in which hundreds of thousands, indirectly a whole people, were entangled, was carried out with an air of normality. It was straightforwardly dependent upon the normality of a highly civilised social intercourse. The monstrous occurred without interrupting the smooth breathing of everyday life. Since then a conscious life is no longer possible without distrust for continuities that assert themselves without question and also want to draw their validity out of their questionlessness.”
Habermas, J., Ethics, Politics and History, from an interview conducted by Jean-Marc Ferry.

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The feeling that is revealed in the preceding interview and the significant references to both the solidarity of the face-to-face intercourse between human beings and the perfidy involved within an apparently normalised social intercourse suggests that it was not possible for Jurgen Habermas to contemplate ‘the ethical’ or moral consciousness and disregard the spheres of language and communication. The aim of this paper is to discuss the work of Habermas in relation to these issues.

It is not hard to imagine that Habermas and other German philosophers of the post Imperial Europe in the 1950’s must have recognised that there was a need to redeem modernity. The Jewish/German thinkers had suffered during the Holocaust and were asking themselves how the allies could be so barbarous in the age after the enlightenment as to turn their backs on the suffering minority groups. It had become hard to conceive of a ‘kingdom of ends’ after the horrors of the Second World War in Germany had revealed a ‘kingdom of means and barbarity’. It is also easy to imagine that Habermas sought to question his predecessor’s theories and their critiques of modernity and rather than extend the philosophy of history, Habermas turned to the philosophy of language in order to find something that may contain ethics and morals.

In his inaugural lecture at Frankfurt University in 1965, Habermas proclaimed that:

“The human interest in autonomy and responsibility [Mundigkeit] is not mere fancy, for it can be apprehended a priori. What raises us out of nature is the only thing whose nature we can know: language. Through its structure, autonomy and responsibility are posited for us. Our first sentence expresses unequivocally the intention of universal and unconstrained consensus.” (McCarthy, 1978, p. 287)

The theory of communicative competence is an attempt to make good this claim by reconstructing the normative basis of speech as a system of “universal and necessary” validity claims. The rationale behind the need to identify and reconstruct the universal conditions of possible understanding is that language cannot be comprehended unless an understanding is achieved in it. Understanding is the function of speech but that does not necessarily mean that every speech action is oriented toward reaching an understanding. However, when validity claims are suspended due to deceit of some kind the communication becomes parasitic upon speech oriented towards understanding. (McCarthy, 1978).

Habermas made various attempts to develop a program of the reconstruction of a corrupted historical materialism. Not coincidentally, he was working on a theory of communicative action at the same time. He felt that the theory needed revision in many respects and reconstruction, as opposed to ‘restoration’ or ‘Renaissance’, was the way to deal with it as it signifies taking the theory apart and putting it back together again. He felt that the theory of communication could solve not only problems of a philosophical nature but perhaps also help to solve problems relating to theories of social evolution. He felt that there had always been a danger of slipping into a bad philosophy while ever there was an inclination to suppress philosophical questions in favour of a scientistic understanding of science. This he relates back to a theoretical tradition of Marx and adds that the kind of knowledge that can decide the creditability of historical materialism is in the choice of the basic concepts that determine the object domain of communicative action (Habermas, 1976).

Habermas claimed further that the bourgeois consciousness had become cynical, that their ideals had gone into retirement and that there were no longer any norms and values that immanently might appeal with the expectation of an agreement. He then proceeds with a statement that is influential in relation to the thesis of this paper:

“A philosophical ethics not restricted to metaethical statements is possible today only if we can reconstruct general presuppositions of communication and procedures for justifying norms and values.
In practical discourse we thematise one of the validity claims that underlie speech as its validity basis. In action oriented to reaching understanding, validity claims are “always already” implicitly raised…….If this is idealism, then idealism belongs in a most natural way to the conditions of reproduction of a species that must preserve its life through labor and interaction, that is, also by virtue of propositions that can be true and norms that are in need of justification.” (1976, p. 97).

Further to this Habermas says that there are connections between communicative action theory and the foundations of historical materialism but that, after examination of individual assumptions of evolutionary theory, there are problems necessitating a reflection on communications theory. He continues:

“Whereas Marx localised the learning processes important for evolution in the dimension of objectivating thought – of technical and organisational knowledge, of instrumental and strategic action, in short, of productive forces – there are good reasons meanwhile for assuming that learning processes also take place in the dimension of moral insight, practical knowledge, communicative action and the consensual regulation of action conflicts……..In its developmental dynamics, the change of normative structures remains dependant on evolutionary challenges posed by unresolved, economically conditioned, system problems and on learning processes that are a response to them. In other words, culture remains a superstructural phenomenon, even if it does seem to play a more prominent role in the transition to new developmental levels than many Marxists have heretofore supposed. This prominence explains the contribution that communication theory can, in my view, make to a renewed historical materialism.” (1976, p. 97 – 98).

Clearly, Habermas is uncomfortable with the deficiency and deterioration of what he describes as a corrupted situation and is energetically positioning his argument in the direction of a communicative ethics. He comments that law and morality mark the core domain of interaction and specialise in maintaining an endangered intersubjectivity of understanding in cases of action conflicts (Habermas, 1976).

Initially, Habermas builds his work upon Kant of whose Categorical Imperative he says:

“Although Kant opts for the grammatical form of an imperative (“Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law”), his categorical imperative in fact plays the part of a principle of justification that discriminates between valid and invalid norms in terms of their universability: what every rational being must be able to will is justified in a moral sense.” (1990, p. 197)

He does not totally diverge from Kant’s universalism but additionally embraces Aristotelian prudential ethics of the contingently situated person with the tenet of man as a doing creature who is also in possession of speech. To some degree he retains Kant’s Categorical Imperative but scales it down to a principle of universalisation (U) with ‘discourse ethics’ by a procedure of moral argumentation (Habermas, 1990).

Habermas’s theory builds upon the premise that human beings are unique rational creatures that possess the ability to converse with each other without necessarily being dominated by coercion or instinct and he recognises the ‘vulnerability’ of the individual. Where we have the power to counteract the vulnerability of others who have become individuated through socialisation, ‘moral intuitions’ instruct us on how to be thoughtful and considerate. There is interdependency between the individual and the collective in a shared ‘life-world’ [Lebenswelt] and it is the communicative action of its members that produces a ‘language community’ (Habermas, 1990). ‘Life-world’ is the schema that you carry with you in an everyday sense, something that can be used to make judgments of reality and to help build a self-understanding of who you are. It is symbolic of how we may hope to orient ourselves as beings in relation to other beings. Habermas also points out that he must prove his ethics to be universalist and not just the prejudicial reflection of an adult, well educated, white, Western male of today (Habermas, 1990).

In the idealised ‘life-world that Habermas conceptualises, cases of disagreement ought to be brought to agreement by argument as much as possible. Here, communicative action might be the mechanism by which agreement is brought about. What this means is that some kind of agreement is achieved that is considered fair and just by all individuals involved. And nobody is forced to do what he/she is not convinced that he/she morally should do or tolerate (Wellmer, 1985). Habermas contends that practical discourse is an exacting form of argumentative decision making:

“Argumentation insures that all concerned in principle take part, freely and equally, in a co-operative search for the truth, where nothing coerces anyone except the force of the argument.” (1990, p. 198)

An agreement, once reached, can be called rational in the sense that no arguments are brought forward against it, nor are any suppressed (Wellmer, 1985).

Of his argument that interactions are communicative, Habermas says:

“The participants co-ordinate their plans of action consensually, with the agreement reached at any point being evaluated in terms of the intersubjective recognition of validity claims. In cases where agreement is reached through explicit linguistic processes, the actors make three different claims to validity in their speech acts as they come to an agreement with one another about something. Those claims are claims to truth, claims to rightness and claims to truthfulness……Further, I distinguish between communicative and strategic action. Whereas in strategic action one actor seeks to influence the behavior of another by means of the threat of sanctions or the prospect of gratification in order to cause the interaction” (1990, p. 58).

Habermas takes a cognitivist approach to moral philosophy when he says:

“I hold the view that normative rightness must be regarded as a claim to validity that is analogous to a truth claim. This notion is captured by the term “cognitivist ethics.” A cognitivist ethics must answer the question of how to justify normative statements….. Only those norms may claim to be valid that could meet with the consent of all affected in their role as participants in a practical discourse….. For a norm to be valid, the consequences and side effects of its general observance for the satisfaction of each person’s particular interests must be acceptable to all.” (1990, p. 197),

How best to justify a normative statement is a most important question facing a cognitive ethicist.

For the research program aimed at reconstructing the universal validity basis of speech Habermas proposes the name of ‘universal pragmatics’ (Habermas, 1976) the initial task of which is the reconstruction of the general presuppositions of consensual speech actions [Sprechhandlungen] (McCarthy, 1978). These speech actions rest on a background consensus formed from the reciprocal uprising and mutual recognition of four types of validity claims:

“The speaker has to select a comprehensible expression in order that the speaker and hearer can understand one another; the speaker has to have the intention of communicating a true propositional content in order that the hearer can share the knowledge of the speaker; the speaker has to want to express his intentions truthfully in order that the hearer can believe in the speaker’s utterance (can trust him); finally, the speaker has to select an utterance that is right in the light of existing norms and values in order that the hearer can accept the utterance, so that both speaker and hearer can agree with one another in the utterance concerning a recognised normative background.” (McCarthy, 1978, p. 288)

Primarily the discussion to this point has been about the moral philosophy of Habermas. We need to now turn to the subject of discourse ethics. Firstly, what is a discourse? If a phonological or lexical sign is the basic unit of language then the sentence is the basic unit of ‘discourse’. Linguists refer to language systems or linguistic codes and discourse can be described as a language-event or language usage. The linguistics of the sentence supports the theory of speech as an event (Ricouer, P. 1977). Ricouer retains four traits from the linguistics of the sentence which elaborate the event of a discourse;

1. The instance of ‘discourse’ is always realised temporally and in the present.
2. The instance of discourse is self-referential as it refers back to its speaker by a complex set of indicators such as personal pronouns.
3. In discourse the symbolic function of language is actualised as it refers to a world which it claims to describe express or represent.
4. In discourse all messages are exchanged and in this sense, discourse has not only a word, but also another person or interlocutor to whom it is addressed (1977, p. 317).

 Discourse can only take place where there are at least two participants and Habermas says that discourse ethics prevails on the following two propositions:

i. Normative claims to validity have cognitive meaning and can be treated like claims to truth.
ii. The justification of norms and commands requires that a real discourse be carried out and thus cannot occur in a strictly monological form, i.e., in the form of a hypothetical process of argumentation occurring in the individual mind. (Habermas, 1990, p. 68).

 Habermas uses the three types of rules that Alexy describes to acknowledge the normative presuppositions of a practical discourse. Firstly, the logical-semantic rules of argumentation are:

(1.1) No speaker may contradict himself.
(1.2) Every speaker who applies predicate F to object A must be prepared to apply F to all other objects resembling A in all relevant aspects.
(1.3) Different speakers may not use the same expression with different meanings (Habermas, 1990, p. 87)

 He notes that presuppositions of argumentation at this level have no ethical content. The rules of jurisdiction and relevance at the second level do have some ethical content.

(2.1) Every speaker may assert only what he really believes.
(2.2) A person who disputes a proposition or norm not under discussion must provide a reason for wanting to do so (Habermas, 1990, p.88).

 The third level of rules that Alexy puts forth is:

(3.1) Every subject with the competence to speak and act is allowed to take part in a discourse.
(3.2) a. Everyone is allowed to question any assertion whatever.
b. Everyone is allowed to introduce any assertion whatever into the discourse.
c. Everyone is allowed to express his attitudes, desires and needs.
(3.3) No speaker may be prevented, by internal or external coercion, from exercising his rights as laid down in (3.1) and (3.2) (Habermas, 1990, p. 88).

 Habermas stresses that discourse rules are merely the form in which we present the adopted and known pragmatic presuppositions of a special type of speech, not the rules as in the rules for a game of chess for instance (Habermas, 1990).

Because rational human beings recognise that they are vulnerable and seek collaboration with others in their community, Habermas has devised a moral principle (U) that every valid norm must fulfil:

(U) All effected can accept the consequences and the side effects its general observance can be anticipated to have for the satisfaction of everyone’s interests (and these consequences are preferred to those of known alternative possibilities for regulation) (1990, p. 65).

 Habermas introduces (U) as a rule of argumentation and says that it makes agreement in practical discourses possible whenever matters of concern are open to regulation in the equal interests of everyone. He then formulates the principle of discourse ethics (D) which stipulates:

(D) Only those norms can claim to be valid that meet (or could meet) with the approval of all affected in their capacity as participants in a practical discourse (1990, p. 66).

 Discourse ethics is founded not on the ‘I’, but more correctly on the ‘we’ and on the basis of a ‘mutual understanding’ between all parties. Habermas questioned how it is that a ‘mutual understanding’ is arrived at and surmised an oral transaction between two or more speaking human beings to be the glue of mutuality. Within the forms of communication there rests an implicit recognition of the other ‘I’. If the two ‘I’s’ can be referred to as subjects and there exists a discourse between those subjects then there exists an ‘inter’- subjectivity which has the potential for mutuality. We look for discourse ethics in the life-world of the ‘inter’.

Habermas observed the actuality of what ‘is’ human association and contemplated how those relationships ‘ought’ to be. The ‘ought’ refers to the expectation that citizens who are committed to the ethics of discourse find it reasonable that we should respect the rights and liberties of others. In deliberation of what constitutes the ‘good life’ and ‘how we should live’, Habermas could not avoid recognising the very tenet of our humanness – the ability that we possess to communicate through discourse and reach mutual understanding with each other.


Habermas, J. 1976, Communication and the Evolution of Society, Polity Press, Great Britain.

Habermas, J. 1990, Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action, MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Habermas, J. 1990, ‘Ethics, Politics and History’, from an interview conducted by Jean-Marc Ferry in Philosophy and Social Criticism, ed. D. Rasmussen, MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

McCarthy, T. 1978, The Critical Theory of Jurgen Habermas, MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Ricouer, P. 1977, ‘The Model of the Text: Meaningful Action Considered as a Text’ in Understanding and Social Inquiry, eds. F. Dallmayr & T. McCarthy, University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame.

Wellmer, A. 1985, ‘Reason, Utopia and the Dialectic of Enlightenment’ in Habermas and Modernity, ed. R. Bernstein, MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.



What Heidegger Means by Being-in-the-World

By Roy Hornsby

Martin Heidegger’s main interest was to raise the issue of Being, that is, to make sense of our capacity to make sense of things. Additionally he wished to rekindle the notion that although difficult to understand, this issue was of utmost importance (Dreyfus 1991). Heidegger’s study, however, was of a specific type of Being, the human being, referred to by Heidegger as ‘Dasein’, which literally means ‘Being-there’ (Solomon 1972). By using the expression Dasein, Heidegger called attention to the fact that a human being cannot be taken into account except as being an existent in the middle of a world amongst other things (Warnock 1970), that Dasein is ‘to be there’ and ‘there’ is the world. To be human is to be fixed, embedded and immersed in the physical, literal, tangible day to day world (Steiner 1978). The purpose of this paper is to offer an explanation of what Heidegger meant by ‘Being-in-the-world’.

Heidegger was concerned that philosophy should be capable of telling us the meaning of Being, of the where and what Dasein is. Heidegger postulated that, the world ‘is’, and that this fact is naturally the primordial phenomenon and the basis of all ontological inquiry. For Heidegger the world is here, now and everywhere around us. We are totally immersed in it, and after all, how could we be anywhere ‘else’? Husserl had previously spoken of a ‘Lebenswelt’ (life-world) to stress the solidness of the human encapsulation within reality, but Heidegger’s ‘grounding’ was more complete. Heidegger articulated this entrenchment with the composite, In-der-welt-sein (a ‘Being-in-the-world’, a ‘to-be-in-the-world’) (Steiner 1978).

For Heidegger, “Dasein is an entity which, in its very Being, comports itself understandingly towards that Being.” And further,

“Dasein exists. Furthermore, Dasein is an entity which in each case I myself am. Mineness belongs to any existent Dasein, and belongs to it as the condition which makes authenticity and inauthenticity possible.”

For Heidegger, Dasein may exist in either one of two modes, (authenticity or inauthenticity), or it is modally undistinguished, but Dasein’s character needs to be understood a-priori as being ‘grounded’ in the state of Being that he called ‘Being-in-the-world’ (Heidegger 1962).

‘Being-in-the-world’, for Heidegger stood for a unitary phenomenon and needed be seen as a whole. However, Heidegger was aware that the expression had several components to its structure. There was the duty to examine the ontological structure of the ‘world’ and define its ‘in-the-world-ness’. Also, the identity of the ‘Who’ that is within the mode of Dasein’s average everydayness needs to be sought out, and, the ontological establishment of ‘Being-in’ needs to be proposed (Heidegger 1962).

Heidegger was concerned with Dasein’s distinctive method of being-in, which is at variance with the manner in which one object can be in another (Dreyfus 1991). In Being and Time Heidegger wrote;

“What is meant by “Being-in”? Our proximal reaction is to round out this expression to “Being-in” ‘in the world’”, and we are inclined to understand this Being-in as ‘Being in something’ ….as the water is ‘in’ the glass, or the garment is ‘in’ the cupboard. By this ‘in’ we mean the relationship of Being which two entities extended ‘in’ space have to each other with regard to their location in that space……Being-present-at-hand-along-with in the sense of a definite location-relationship with something else which has the same kind of Being, are ontological characteristics which we call ‘categorial’ ”

For Heidegger, these types of ‘categorial’ Beings belong to entities whose kind of Being is not Dasein. Heidegger continued that, on the other hand, Being-in is an existentiale state of Dasein’s Being and it cannot be thought of in terms of the Being-present-at-hand of a corporeal Thing ‘in’ an entity which is present at hand. Heidegger went on to say, “ ‘Being-in’ is thus the formal existential expression for the Being of Dasein, which has its Being-in-the-world as its essential state.” According to Steiner (1978), “Heidegger is saying that the notion of existential identity and that of world are completely wedded. To be at all is to be worldly. The everyday is the enveloping wholeness of being.”

It is the convening of ‘Dasein’ and the ‘world’ which gives definition to both, and the solidness of these terms is covered thinly by the English word ‘facticity’ (Steiner 1978). Heidegger wrote;

“Dasein’s facticity is such that its Being-in-the-world has always dispersed [zerstreut] or even split itself up into definite ways of Being-in. The multiplicity of these is indicated by the following examples: having to do with something, producing something, attending to something and looking after it, making use of something, giving something up and letting it go, undertaking, accomplishing, evincing, interrogating, considering, discussing, determining…. All these kind ways of Being-in have concern (‘Bersorgen’) as their kind of Being.”

Heidegger (1962) used the term ‘concern’ as an ontological term for an existentiale to select the Being of a possible way of Being-in-the-world because he felt that the Being of Dasein itself was to be revealed as ‘care’ (Sorge) and that because Being-in-the-world fundamentally belongs to Dasein, its Being concerning the world is fundamentally concern. Concern is the temporal meaning which Being-in-the-world has for human beings and it is the time configuration of human life which is the identical concern which human beings have for the world. If human beings had no concept of time they would have no reason to be engaged or implicated in the world in a human way. It is the awareness of temporality which establishes that the relationship that human beings have with the world is through concern (Warnock 1970).

Not everything is possible for every human being. Every person’s options are limited in one way or another and ‘concern’ is a way that humans can decide what decision could be the correct one in order to move from one condition to another. Choices are made in the world in which humans exist surrounded by other humans. Human beings are characterised by uniqueness, one from another, and this uniqueness gives rise to a set of possibilities for each individual. All human beings are continually oriented towards their own potential, among which are the possibilities of authentic and inauthentic existence. If, whilst moving forward, the standards and beliefs and prejudices of society are embraced, individuals may fail to differentiate themselves from the masses. This, Heidegger regarded as living an ‘inauthentic’ existence (Warnock 1970).

For Heidegger, Authentic existence can only come into being when individuals arrive at the realisation of who they are and grasp the fact that each human being is a distinctive entity. Once human beings realise that they have their own destiny to fulfill, then their concern with the world will no longer be the concern to do as the masses do, but can become an ‘authentic’ concern to fulfill their real potentiality in the world (Warnock 1970).

Heidegger described the self of everyday Dasein as the ‘they-self’,

“which we distinguish from the authentic Self – that is, from the Self which has been taken hold of in its own way [eigens ergriffenen]. As they-self, the particular Dasein has been dispersed into the ‘they’, and must first find itself.” And further “If Dasein discovers the world in its own way [eigens] and brings it close, if it discloses to itself its own authentic Being, then this discovery of the ‘world’ and this disclosure of Dasein are always accomplished as a clearing-away of concealments and obscurities, as a breaking up of the disguises with which Dasein bars its own way.”

Heidegger (1962) said that deliberation on these matters have brought about a solid understanding of Dasein bringing the average everydayness of Being-in-the-world into view.

Heidegger felt that the all-determining focal point of our Being-in-the-world was going unnoticed because the daily realities of our existence are so trite and numerous but, for Heidegger, ‘knowing’ was a kind of Being and Dasein only discovers itself when it comprehends reality. Knowledge is not an inexplicable bound from subject to object and return (Steiner 1978),

“But no sooner was the ‘phenomenon of knowing the world’ grasped than it got interpreted in a ‘superficial’, formal manner. The evidence for this is the procedure (still customary today) of setting up knowing as a ‘relation between subject and Object’ – a procedure in which there lurks as much ‘truth’ as vacuity. But subject and Object do not coincide with Dasein and the world.”

Heidegger (1962) said that a principle task was to reveal that knowing has a phenomenal character of a Being which is in and towards the world. Knowing is the possession of those human-Things which are able to know and is an internal characteristic of those entities. Heidegger expanded upon this by saying that knowing is a ‘concern’ and to know something, even with little interest, is a tangible kind of Being-in-the-world. In fact for Heidegger, even forgetting modifies the primordial Being-in and even as knowledge did not create the world nor forgetting destroy it, it follows that Dasein only realises itself when it grasps reality (Steiner 1978).

Heidegger proclaimed that we are ‘thrown’ into the world and that our Being-in-the-world is a ‘thrownness’ [Geworfenheit]. To Heidegger this concept is a primordial banality which had long been overlooked by metaphysical conjecture. Humans beings are thrown with neither prior knowledge nor individual option into a world that was there before and will remain there after they are gone (Steiner 1978). Heidegger wrote;

“This characteristic of Dasein’s Being – this ‘that it is’ – is veiled in its ‘whence’ and ‘whither’, yet disclosed in itself all the more unveiledly; we call it the ‘thrownness’ of this entity into its ‘there’; indeed, it is thrown in such a way that, as Being-in-the-world, it is the ‘there’. The expression ‘thrownness’ is meant to suggest the facticity of its being delivered over.”

No biology of parentage can answer the question of whence we came into Being. Neither do we know toward what end our existence has been projected, apart from our position in relation to death. Yet for Heidegger, it is this twofold mystery that makes the ‘thrown’ state of human life the more absolute and tangible. Human kind is ‘delivered over’ to a total, all-encompassing ‘thereness’ and Dasein must occupy this presentness and take it up into its own existence. Heidegger wished to emphasise the unmistakable ‘thereness’ of the world into which we are thrown (Steiner 1978).

The world into which our Dasein is thrown has others in it, and the existence of others is totally indispensable to its facticity of Being-there. Understanding of others in the world and the association of the ontological status of others with our own Dasein is, in itself, a form of Being. Heidegger said that Being-in-the-world is a being-with, and that the understanding of the presentness of others is to exist. However, being-with presents the possibility of comprehending our own Dasein as an everyday Being-with-one-another where we may come to exist not on our own terms, but only in reference to others. In so doing, we eventually come to not be ourselves, and surrender our existence to a formless ‘Theyness’ or alterity (Steiner 1978).

For Heidegger, the ‘belonging to others’ is a drastic irresponsibility because the ‘they’ deprives the particular Dasein of its own accountability by making every decision and judgement for it. The ‘they’ can do this most easily because it can always be said that ‘they’ were responsible for such and such. Heidegger said that this passivity creates the alienated self, the ‘Man’ who is fatally disburdened of moral autonomy and, therefore, of moral responsibility. This ‘Man’ can know no ethical guilt. Heidegger called this the ‘self of everyday Dasein’ or the ‘they-self’, the total opposite of the solid singularity of a Dasein which has grasped itself. This crucial distinction was important for Heidegger as it is the distinction between an authentic and an inauthentic human existence (Steiner 1978).

Inauthentic Dasein does not live as itself but as ‘they’ live. In fact, for Heidegger, it barely exists at all and it exists in a state of fear [Furcht](Steiner 1978). This fear is distinct from anxiety [Angst]. Fear could be experienced when a threat to our life, signifying our situation is recognised, but anxiety is experienced in the face of nothing in particular in our situation (Warnock 1970). According to Warnock (1970), anxiety is that which drives us to swamp ourselves in the insignificant, the common and in all of the elements of an inauthentic existence. However, Steiner (1978), wrote that fear is a part of a trite communal reaction whereas anxiety [Angst] is

“that which makes problematic, which makes worthy of our questioning, our Being-in-the-world. Angst is one of the primary instruments through which the ontic character and context of everyday existence is made inescapably aware of, is rendered naked to, the pressures of the ontological. And further, Angst is a mark of authenticity, of the repudiation of the ‘theyness’.”

Upon close investigation, Steiner’s interpretation is closer to Heidegger’s meaning surrounding Angst than is Warnock’s. Heidegger wrote that an understanding of Being belongs to the ontological structure of Dasein, and he proposed that there is an understanding state of mind in which Dasein is disclosed to itself. Heidegger sought a simplified way of disclosure to bring the structural totality of Being to light and he hypothesized that the state of mind that would satisfy his requirements, was the state of anxiety. Taking the phenomenon of falling as his departure point and distinguishing anxiety from fear, Heidegger wrote;

“As one of Dasein’s possibilities of Being, anxiety – together with Dasein itself as disclosed in it – provides the phenomenal basis for explicitly grasping Dasein’s primordial totality of Being.”

Steiner (1978) offers a demarcation in that, a further aspect of Dasein, as argued by Heidegger, is that Dasein is grounded in language; Being-in-the-world expresses itself in discourse. Furthermore, he made a distinction between ‘Rede’, ‘the speech of Dasein’ and ‘Gerede’, ‘talk’. He avoided the triteness of using the term ‘idle chatter’ for ‘talk’ because it was far too reassuring for what he wanted to say. For Heidegger, ‘talk’ had lost its primary relationship-of-being toward the talked about entity and all that ‘talk’ was doing was to ‘pass words along’ or, to ‘gossip emptily’, fostering illusions of understanding that have no real comprehension. Dasein-with-others takes place in an echo chamber of nonstop bogus interaction, with no cognition as to what is being communicated (Steiner 1978).

The differences between authentic and inauthentic lives were contrasted by Heidegger through the agencies of fear set against anxiety, ‘speech’ contrasted with ‘talk’, genuine wonder opposed to mere novelty. Each disparate category comes about as an expected outcome of the complete antithesis between the self-possession of true Dasein and the collective lack of perception of an existence carried out in terms of ‘oneness’ and ‘theyness’. Heidegger denoted this latter state as ‘Verfall’ (‘a falling away from’ ‘a cadence into decline’). Heidegger was careful to point out that the condition of ‘Verfallensein’ (a fallen state) is not sinful, nor is the term meant to cast a moral value judgement. Heidegger wrote;

“Dasein has, in the first instance, fallen away [abgefallen] from itself as an authentic potentiality for Being its self, and has fallen into the ‘world’. ‘Fallenness’ into the world means an absorption in Being-with-one-another, in so far as the latter is guided by idle talk, curiosity and ambiguity. Through the Interpretation of falling, what we have called the ‘inauthenticity’ of Dasein may now be defined more precisely. On no account however do the terms ‘inauthentic’ and ‘non-authentic’ signify ‘really not’, as if in this mode of Being, Dasein were altogether to lose its Being. ‘Inauthenticity’ does not mean anything like Being-no-longer-in-the-world, but amounts rather to quite a distinctive kind of Being-in-the-world – the kind which is completely fascinated by the ‘world’ and by the Dasein-with of Others in the ‘they’. Not-Being-its-self [Das Nicht-es-selbst-sein] functions as a positive possibility of that entity which, in its essential concern, is absorbed in a world. This kind of not-Being has to be conceived as that kind of Being which is closest to Dasein and in which Dasein maintains itself for the most part.”

For Heidegger then, ‘inauthenticity’ and ‘fallenness’ are not mere mishaps or erroneous options. Rather they are essential components of existence, because Dasein is always Dasein-with and a Being-in-the-world into which we have been thrown. Acceding to the enticement of living a mundane existence is simply a part of existing itself. ‘Fallenness’ was a positive for Heidegger in the sense that there must be ‘inauthenticity’, ‘theyness’, and ‘talk’, for Dasein to become aware of its loss of self and strive for its return to authentic Being. ‘Verfall’ turns out to be the completely essential prerequisite towards the repossession of self, the struggle toward true Dasein (Steiner 1978).

Dasein is committed to searching out the authentic via the inauthenticity of its Being-in-the-world and Heidegger said that authentic existence is not something which floats above everyday fallingness. He postulated that a proper instrument is needed for seizing the everydayness and he said that that instrument is ‘care’ [Sorge]. Because in the condition of inauthenticity we ‘fall away from ourselves’, Heidegger said that we simultaneously fall into a frenetic busyness and an emptiness that gives rise to a sense of the uncanny. As we flap about feeling ‘homeless’ our everyday familiarity is shattered (Steiner 1978).

It is uncanniness that declares the pivotal moments in which Angst brings Dasein face to face with the terrible freedom of deciding whether to remain in inauthenticity or to endeavor to attain self-possession. ‘Sorge’ is the means of transcendence beyond being Dasein-with and Dasein-in to become Dasein-for and Sorge must be a ‘care for’ many things. These things include a concern for others, a care for the ready-to-hand, but in principle Sorge is a caring for the presentness and obscurity of Being itself (Steiner 1978). Heidegger said;

“When Dasein ‘understands’ uncanniness in the everyday manner, it does so by turning away from it in falling; in this turning away, the ‘not-at-home’ gets ‘dimmed down’. Yet the everydayness of this fleeing shows phenomenally that anxiety, as a basic state of mind, belongs to Dasein’s essential state of Being-in-the-world, which, as one that is existential, is never present-at-hand but is itself always in a mode of factical Being-there – that is, in the mode of a state of mind.”

For Heidegger, it is Sorge that signifies a mans existence and makes it meaningful. To be-in-the-world in an authentic existential pretext is to be ‘careful’. Heidegger concluded that ‘care’ is the primordial state of Being as Dasein strives towards authenticity (Steiner 1978).

Finally, Heidegger said that Angst reveals to Dasein the opportunity of fulfilling itself in a fervent ‘freedom towards death’. This freedom has been released from the delusions of the ‘they’ to become accurate, certain of itself, and anxious. The temporality of Dasein is solidified by the awesome certainty that all Being is a Being-toward-death and that, “The ‘end’ of Being-in-the-world is death.” Heidegger wrote;

“Death is a possibility-of-Being which Dasein itself has to take over in every case. With death, Dasein stands before itself in its ownmost potentiality-for-Being. This is a possibility in which the issue is nothing less than Dasein’s Being-in-the-world. Its death is the possibility of no-longer being-able-to-be-there. If Dasein stands before itself as this possibility, it has been fully assigned to its ownmost potentiality-for-Being. When it stands before itself in this way, all its relations to any other Dasein have been undone. This ownmost non-relational possibility is at the same time the uttermost one.”

In the first division of “Being and Time”, Heidegger worked out his account of Being-in-the-world and used it to ground an insightful evaluation of long-established ontology and epistemology. For Heidegger, human beings are never directly in the world except by way of being in some particular circumstance; it is Dasein that is Being-in-the-world (Dreyfus 1991).


Dreyfus, H. 1991, Being-in-the-World: A Commentary on Heidegger’s Being and Time, Division I, The MIT Press, Cambridge.

Heidegger, M. 1962, Being and Time, Harper & Row, New York.

Solomon, R. 1972, From Rationalism to Existentialism: The Existentialists and Their Nineteenth Century Backgrounds, Harper & Row, New York.

Steiner, G. 1978, Heidegger, The Harvester Press Limited, Sussex.

Warnock, M. 1970, Existentialism, Oxford University Press, Oxford.


How did the Copernican revolution contribute to the emergence of a scientific world-view?
By Roy Hornsby

In medieval Europe it was generally accepted that the Earth lay at the centre of a finite universe and that the sun, planets and stars orbited around it. The framework in which this astronomy was set was established by Aristotle (384 – 322 BC) in the fourth century BC while in the second century AD Ptolemy (c. 100 – 170 AD) devised a detailed yet different geocentric astronomical system (Chalmers, 1976).

During the early part of the sixteenth century, Nicolaus Copernicus (1473 – 1543) developed the first heliocentric theory of the universe (Blackburn, 1994) which he presented in ‘De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium Libri Sex’ (Six Books on the Revolution of the Celestial Orbs). The Copernican astronomy involved a moving Earth, which challenged the Aristotelian and Ptolemaic systems but by the time the Copernican view had been substantiated, the Aristotelian world-view had been replaced by the Newtonian theories of inertia, gravitation and motion (Chalmers, 1976).

The purpose of this paper is to examine how the theories of Copernicus contributed to the emergence of a scientific world-view, a view that encompassed a paradigmatic shift in world-view orientation from the medieval explanations of nature. Before the impact of the work of Copernicus can be fully appreciated however, it is necessary to have an understanding of the historical and social conditions that prevailed at that time.

The medieval schema of the universe was geocentric. That is, the Earth remained stationary at the centre of the universe while the sun, the planets and all of the stars revolved around it. However, geocentricism had been under attack. Around 1375 The Occamists, particularly in Paris had been busy with a critical philosophy and forward-looking scientific investigations. Despite retaining some of the teleological elements of Aristotelian physics, Buridan (c. 1295 – 1358) had developed a concept of inertia and of gravity as uniformly accelerated motion. Nicholas of Oresme invented the idea of analytic geometry, discovered the formula for uniformly accelerated motion and argued for the rotation of the Earth (Blake, Ducasse & Madden, 1960).

Furthermore, Nicholas of Cusa (1401 – 1464) was associated with the doctrine of the ‘concordance of contraries’, an attack on the Aristotelian law of non-contradiction (Blackburn, 1994) and had been willing to entertain the idea that the Earth might be in motion. In fact it has been suggested that Copernicus owed to Cusa his view that a sphere set in empty space would begin to turn without needing anything to move it (Butterfield, 1957). Despite these pockets of revolutionary thinking, medieval philosophy remained locked in pantheistic mysticism (Norris-Clark, 1994). Philosophy of the time was subordinate to Christian theology and limited by subservience to dogma. The reverence and respect displayed to authorities of philosophy and theology characterised this thought as Scholasticism. Scholastics sought not to learn new facts, but to integrate the knowledge already acquired separately by Greek reasoning and Christian revelation. Furthermore, they believed in harmony between faith and reason (Copleston, 1992). Because the scholastics believed that revelation was the direct teaching of God, it possessed for them a higher degree of truth and certitude than did natural reason. Throughout the scholastic period, philosophy was called the servant of theology, not only because the truth of philosophy was subordinated to that of theology, but also because the theologian used philosophy to understand and explain the revelation. This concern is one of the most characteristic differences between Scholasticism and modern thought since the Renaissance (Norris-Clark, 2001).

Scholastics applied the requirements for scientific demonstration as first specified in Aristotle’s ‘Organon’ much more rigorously than previous philosophers had done. These requirements were so strict that Aristotle himself was rarely able to apply them fully beyond the realms of mathematics. It was this trend that finally led to the loss of confidence in natural human reason and philosophy that is characteristic of the early Renaissance and of the first Protestant religious reformers, such as Martin Luther (Norris-Clark, 2001).

The Christian church, still reeling from the effects of both the schism of Eastern and Western churches (1054) and of the rival Popes (1378 – 1417) found itself facing an intensified call for reform that eventually erupted in the Protestant Reformation (O’Malley, 2001). Humanism, the revival of classical learning and speculative inquiry, displaced Scholasticism in Italy during the early Renaissance of the 15th Century and quickly spread to become the principle philosophy of Western Europe. This deprived church leaders of the monopoly on learning that they had previously held (Encarta, 2001).

Martin Luther (1483 – 1546) initiated the Protestant revolution in Germany in 1517 when he published his 95 theses challenging the theory and practice of indulgences. The reform became very popular with the people and Germany became sharply divided along religious and economic lines. The reformation spread throughout Europe and led to the Peasants War (1524 – 1526). Not until 1534 when Paul III became pope did the church meet the challenge of the Protestants. Paul III, like many of his successors, did not hesitate to use both diplomatic and military measures against the Protestants. The Counter Reformation movement sought to revitalise the Roman Catholic Church. Subsequently, the Index of Forbidden Books and a new Inquisition were instituted about 1542 (O’Malley, 2001).

Astronomers also were groping for reform at the time of the birth of Copernicus. By the time that Copernicus had finished his preliminary training in astronomy, his teachers had begun to realise that although an intensive study of Ptolemy’s ‘Almagest’ was a necessary pre-requisite to further study, to know only Ptolemy was not going to be sufficient to rejuvenate astronomy (Boas, 1962). Indeed, some astronomers held that the Ptolemaic system was so cumbersome and inaccurate that it could not be true of nature. Copernicus himself eventually wrote in the preface to ‘De Revolutionibus’ that the astronomical tradition he had inherited had created only a monster (Kuhn, 1962). Further to this Kuhn (1962, p. 69) stated,

“By the early sixteenth century an increasing number of Europe’s best astronomers were recognising that the astronomical paradigm was failing in application to its own traditional problems. That recognition was prerequisite to Copernicus’ rejection of the Ptolemaic paradigm and his search for a new one.”

Copernicus however, did not seem to have a revolutionary attitude and upon rejection of the Ptolemaic system he examined again the earlier Greek astronomy. The humanist principle that all knowledge must lie with the ancients still appeared viable. Copernicus attempted nothing that others had not tried before because many astronomers had used the ancients to refute Ptolemy, however Copernicus alone chose the Pythagorean system which was to have profound revolutionary implications (Boas, 1962).

The historical evidence presented thus far suggests that Western Europe was in a state of several crises when Copernicus entered into the controversy and was ripe for a revolution of one type or another. However, Copernicus kept his work in abeyance for over thirty years and without the encouragement of George Rheticus (1514 – 1576) it is debatable whether his works would have been published at all, let alone before his death. At this point it is appropriate to note that Copernicus was a canon of the Roman Catholic Church and had been called upon by Pope Leo X to reform the calendar. The church was anxious that religious festivals be accorded their proper places in time. George Rheticus was a Protestant who was responsible for the publication of Copernicus’s ‘Narratio Primer’ in 1540 though he handed over his position in the publication of ‘De Revolutionibus’ to a Lutheran pastor named Andreas Osiander (Boas, 1962). It is ironic that the Catholic Church was involved in the instigation of a reform that would eventually lead to erosion of their power over humanity. It is doubly so that it was done with the first hand assistance of two Protestants.

Traditionally, Copernicus saw his finished work only on his deathbed in 1543 and much controversy has raged over his disinclination to publish in the years between 1512 and 1539. One possible reason is that he may have been afraid of official censure. This fear was not unfounded, as publication of ‘De Revolutionibus’ was antecedent to much comment and criticism. Central to the Copernican system lay the point which required the most reasoned argument and one which caused Copernicus to fear ridicule from his peers; the attribution of motion to the Earth. To assume in the sixteenth century that the Earth moved required a straining of well-assured fact that could amount to the absurdity provoked by the contrary argument today. Although his book was well received by the church and used to further calendar reform little attention was given at first to its heart, the new theory. (Boas, 1962).

As mentioned previously in this paper it is inappropriate to suggest that the publication of Copernicus’s great work shook any foundation of European thought immediately. A generation after his death the period of crucial transition commenced and the controversy over the correctness of the Ptolemaic or the Copernican tenet became intense. Almost one hundred and fifty years would pass before a theory of the universe that would permit explanation of the movement of the Earth and other planets was presented. This explanation, in turn, provided a framework for further scientific development. The influence of Copernicus was indeed important but it resulted not so much from his system of the skies but more from the stimulus that he gave to men who in reality were producing something very different (Butterfield, 1957).

Kuhn (1962, p. 116) discusses paradigm-induced changes in scientific perceptions during the first half century after Copernicus’s new paradigm was proposed. He states:

“The very ease and rapidity with which astronomers saw new things when looking at old objects with old instruments may make us wish to say that, after Copernicus, astronomers lived in a different world. In any case, their research responded as though that were the case.” (Kuhn 1962, p. 117).

In Kuhn’s ‘The Copernican Revolution’ Copernicus is presented as a highly proficient mathematical astronomer whose very narrow mindedness outside of his chosen domain blinded him to the destructive consequences that his technical reform of astronomy entailed for the entire traditional world-view (Cohen, 1994). Kuhn’s point is important, for the heliocentric theories of Copernicus replaced the geocentric view of the cosmos that further threatened the authority of the church (Norris-Clark, 1994). No longer was humanity at the centre of the universe, about which all else revolved, but rather humanity was but one small part of a much larger system in constant movement. With the importance of humanity being decentred, people began to question more than that which faith held in high regard. This resulted in original and creative thought beginning to develop outside of the revered institutions of education (Copleston, 1994), and what emerged were fresh original minds, aching to be freed from the shackles of traditional thought. The geographical discoveries, the opening up of fresh sources of wealth and the questioning of the church, heralded a new era.

In spite of this, most Renaissance scholars felt confident in tracing human history back in a continuous pedigree to Adam, the first human allowing man to retain his divinely fixed place in time and space. Finally, owing to a succession of geniuses, Copernican astronomy assimilated in the seventeenth century. This assimilation resulted in the displacement of the Earth, and man upon it. Rather than being central to the universe, the Earth and consequently mankind became insignificant elements in an infinite universe (Porter, 1990).

Grant (1971) deliberates as to why the 14th century cosmological speculations failed to bring about a Scientific Revolution in the way that Copernicus’s astronomical reform was able to do. According to Cohen (1994, p. 267) Grant states,

“Saving the phenomena became the predominant attitude. The thing to do was to think up clever imaginations of how things might be rather than embark upon a relentless investigation of reality.”

Grant further argues that the physical realists of the 13th century failed to produce early modern science because of their lack of confidence of the human mind to penetrate nature. Copernicus succeeded because his work made possible for the first time

“a potent union of new ideas that would challenge the traditional physics and cosmology….with the conviction, even if naive, that knowledge of physical reality was fully attainable.” (Cohen, 1994, p. 267).

Apart from a few eminent mathematicians like Rheticus and intellectual radicals like Bruno, nobody was bold enough to champion the work of Copernicus. It was the genius of Johannes Kepler (1571 – 1630) who seized upon it in the late 1580’s (Burtt, 1952). However, the person who contributed most significantly to the defence of the Copernican system was Galileo Galilei (1564 – 1642). He achieved this in two ways; first, he used the telescope to observe the heavens and transformed pure Copernican theory to theory substantiated through observational data. Second, he devised the beginnings of new mechanics and laid some foundations for Newtonian mechanics that would replace Aristotle’s. In doing so, the mechanical arguments against Copernicus were diffused (Chalmers, 1976).

The theory that Giordano Bruno (1548 – 1600) developed from the Copernican system was that the universe forms a system of countless worlds, each of which moves around its own sun. This governs each world that leads its own proper life, emerging from a chaotic condition to a clear and definite formation and again yields to the destiny of dissolution. From the significance of the Copernican theory the ‘unlimitedness’ of space and time gained a clearer form and ultimately the proven hypothesis of the motion of the Earth about the Sun could furnish a rational basis for the completely new view of man’s position in the universe. The anthropocentric idea which had ruled the Middle Ages became incoherent and man, as well as the Earth, ceased to be regarded as the centre of the universe and centre of the world (Windleband, 1958). Kuhn (1957, p. 264) recognises this by stating:

“The conception of a planetary Earth was the first successful break with a constitutive element of the ancient world view. Though intended solely as an astronomical reform, it had destructive consequences which could be resolved only within a new fabric of thought. Copernicus himself did not supply that fabric; his own conception of the universe was closer to Aristotle’s than to Newton’s. But the new problems and suggestions that derived from his innovation are the most prominent landmarks in the development of the new universe which that innovation had itself called forth.”

It is not within the scope of this paper to fully examine the far reaching implications upon science and indeed mankind that have resulted from the work of Copernicus. Through the evidence presented thus far it is apparent that the mathematical reform of astronomy initiated by him was a significant intellectual event. Subsequently it set in motion a preparatory movement in astronomical and physical thought which gradually expanded until it erupted in what is now referred to as the Scientific Revolution (Cohen, 1994). His planetary theories profoundly effected man’s relation to God and the universe and further, were catalytic to the transition from a medieval to a modern Western society. The Copernican theory created tremendous controversies in religion, philosophy and social theory which have set the tenor of the modern mind (Kuhn, 1957).

In conclusion, the work of Copernicus not only transformed mankind’s conception of the universe but it has been markedly influential in the evolution of science and rational thought as we know it today.


Blackburn, S. 1994, Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, Oxford University Press, Great Britian.

Blake, R. M., Ducasse, C. J., & Madden, E. H. 1960, Theories of Scientific Method: The Renaissance through the Nineteenth Century, University of Washington Press, Seattle.

Boas, M. 1962, The Scientific Renaissance 1450 – 1630, Harper & Row Publishers, New York.

Burtt, E. 1952, The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science, Humanities Press International Inc., New Jersey.

Butterfield, H. 1957, The Origins of Modern Science, The Free Press, New York.

Chalmers, A. 1999, What is This Thing Called Science?, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia.

Cohen, H. 1994, The Scientific Revolution, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Copleston, F. 1992, ‘Late Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy’ in A History of Modern Philosophy: Vol. 3, Image, New York.

Copleston, F. 1994, ‘Modern Philosophy: from Descartes to Leibniz’ in A History of Modern Philosophy: Vol. 4, Image, New York.

Kuhn, T. 1957, The Copernican Revolution, Harvard University Press, Cambridge.

Kuhn, T. 1962, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 2nd edn, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2001,

Norris-Clark, W. 1994, Scholasticism. [Microsoft Encarta]. CA: Microsoft Corporation.

Norris-Clark, W. 2001, Scholasticism. Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2001,

O’Malley, J. 2001, Great Schism. Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2001,

Porter, R. 1990, The Enlightenment, Macmillan Press, Great Britian.

Windleband, W. 1958, ‘Renaissance, Enlightenment and Modern’ in A History of Philosophy Vol. 2, Harper & Brothers Publishers, New York.


Stoics added a vital ingredient to our understanding of selfhood.
By Roy Hornsby

The fundamental question in ancient ethics was, “How ought I to live?”[1] or, “What should my life be like?” These are questions which any person may put to themselves, but many people choose not to be reflective. This could be because an individual may be satisfied with convention or perhaps be too busy to question whether they are as they should be or how they might better themselves. Today there is an enormous amount of literature and psychology concerning how individuals might reflect upon their lives and while there are several ready answers available, perhaps an intelligent and reflective individual may only be satisfied with answers that emerge from a study of ethical philosophy (Annas, J. 1993).

Stoicism offered a philosophy of ethics that held virtue (aretê) as a singular expression and its possession by an individual as a matter of all or nothing. The stoic view is that, since aretê requires right judgment, the good man is also the wise man who is a citizen of the universe; his relation to other collectives is secondary and accidental. Stoicism stands against the physical and political circumstance while at the same time is in conformity with nature. Aretê finds purpose in the divine life and the cosmic order, the individual needs to do what is right for its own sake without any eye to a further purpose. In Stoicism, the plurality of the virtues and their teleological arrangement in the good life, as both Plato and Aristotle had understood them, are replaced with a simpler monism of virtue (MacIntyre, A. 1984). The purpose of this paper is to discuss the elements of Stoic philosophy that underpin our fundamental understanding of selfhood.

Similar to its two rival philosophical schools, the Epicureans and the Skeptics, Stoicism claimed that the philosophical art of soul-healing when correctly developed and duly applied, is both essential and satisfactory for attaining the highest ends of human life. Cicero’s interlocutor declared,

“Be convinced at least of this, that unless the soul [animus] is cured, which cannot be done without philosophy, there will be no end to our afflictions. Therefore, since we have now begun, let us turn ourselves over to philosophy for treatment; we shall be cured, if we want to be”[2].

This medical analogy of ‘soul healing’ is important because, for the Stoics, philosophy is regarded as the ‘doctor’ ministering to urgent human needs. However, the patient must not remain purely dependant and receptive; the patient must become the doctor of its own soul (Nussbaum, M. 1994).

The central and guiding outlook of Stoicism is its great respect for the reliability of each person’s own powers of reasoning. It is reason that marks humans as supremely higher than animals and worthy of boundless respect and self respect. However, reason is not just the most important thing about humans, but it is also something that is completely one’s own and only within one’s power to cultivate and control. In Stoicism, reason is essentially associated with sound choice and avoidance, and the making of distinctions between good and bad in the field of action. Furthermore, a searching self-examination of culture and belief enables an individual to take charge of their own thinking, consider alternatives and choose the most appropriate action. Stoic teachings stated that a person needed to defer customary responses and turn the gaze upon themselves, becoming watchful and critical of all things. Epictetus said, “Right from the start, get into the habit of saying to every harsh appearance, ‘You are an appearance, and not the only way of seeing the thing that appears.’ Then examine it and test by the yardsticks you have”[3] (Nussbaum, M. 1994).

Ethical arguments considered in association with their underlying influence had practical value for the Greek Stoics but this became even more prominent with the Romans. The Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca is reported to have said that “you should make yourself better every day” and that philosophy “shapes and constructs the soul, orders life, guides conduct, shows what is to be done and what omitted, sits at the helm and guides our course as we waver amid uncertainties”[4]. Stoicism viewed the soul as a site that is both spacious and deep and much of what goes on inside of it as escaping the person to whom it belongs. Thus, the Stoic idea of learning is one of increasing vigilance as the wakeful mind learns to reclaim its own experience from the miasma of habit, convention and forgetfulness. This the soul must do by itself through its own daily practices of self-scrutiny (Nussbaum, M. 1994).

Seneca and the Stoics maintained that aretê can be obtained, that the individual must acquire the art of wisdom by a progression from the unawareness of a child to the attainment of adult virtue. Seneca’s prose is full of metaphors that view an individual’s life as a journey, a journey that requires motion, alteration and accomplishment. As Aristotle had pointed out, any issue in which an individual is involved may be organised as ‘art’ and may be dealt with systematically. Seneca became like a travel guide and his writings like maps to demonstrate to the individual the road from ignorance to knowledge. Throughout Seneca’s writings is displayed a passion to enlighten the pilgrim and to share knowledge on the high road to virtue and happiness. (Motto, A. 1973).

For the Stoics, life becomes a project. To realise the full potential of human capacities life needs to be made a task that is similar to an object or a work of art. This is nowhere more clearly evident than in the writings of the Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher, Marcus Aurelius. Aurelius kept a personal journal during the last years of his life which was an informal record of his reflections, observations and self-criticisms. He called the journal To Himself  because he wanted to better understand who he was and how he should best work and live with others. Centuries after he wrote it, the journal came to be called The Meditations. Throughout The Meditations Aurelius continually reminds himself to slow down and create moments of serenity in order to be able to withdraw and reflect. He wrote, “Do the things external which fall upon thee distract thee? Give thyself time to learn something new and good, and cease to be whirled around.”[5] And again “those who do not observe the movements of their own minds must of necessity be unhappy”.[6] Aurelius tells himself;

“Men seek retreats for themselves, houses in the country, sea-shores, and mountains; and thou too art wont to desire such things very much. But this is altogether a mark of the most common sort of men, for it is in thy power whenever thou shalt choose to retire into thyself. For nowhere either with more quiet or more freedom from trouble does a man retire than into his own soul, particularly when he has within him such thoughts that by looking into them he is immediately in perfect tranquility; and I affirm that tranquility is nothing else than the good ordering of the mind. Constantly then give to thyself this retreat, and renew thyself; and let thy principles be brief and fundamental, which, as soon as thou shalt recur to them, will be sufficient to cleanse the soul completely, and to send thee back free from all discontent with the things to which thou returnest”.[7]

It is evident that Marcus Aurelius subscribed to the Stoic tenet of self examination in order that he might live a happier and more fulfilling life than had he done otherwise and that for him, life was a project.

Marcus’s search for lived truths through the scrutiny of others is also evident when he uses phrases such as “he showed me” and “he was living proof” and “through him I came to see”. Marcus examined how people truly lived and acted not just what they said (Badaracco, J. 1997) and this probing insightful enquiry was typical of Stoic philosophy.

Stoicism was not simply an episode in Greek and Roman culture but rather it was a pattern for all of those later European moralities that invoked the notion of law as central to displacing notions of the virtues (MacIntyre, A. 1984). It is evident that the Stoic principle of ‘life as a project’ has been taken up by some modern philosophers and The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius could well be the ancient counterpart to Nietzsche’s modern-day appeal to “become who you are.” In the Myth of Eternal Recurrence Nietzsche gives advice for reflection on an imagined best life by suggesting that an individual should think over and over again and forever about decision making and living a certain type of life;

“The greatest weight. – What if some day or night a demon were to steal after you in your loneliest loneliness and say to you: “This life, as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence – even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself”.[8]

Nietzsche also felt that individuals had the capability of creating their lives and themselves as works of art, indeed as sculptures of the self;

“One thing is needful. – To ‘give style’ to one’s character – a great and rare art! It is practiced by all those who survey all the strengths and weaknesses of their nature and then fit them into an artistic plan until every one of them appears as art and reason and even weaknesses delight the eye. Here a large mass of second nature has been added; there a piece of original nature has been removed – both times through long practice and daily work at it. Here the ugly that could not be removed is concealed; there it has been re-interpreted and made sublime”.[9]

It should be no surprise that Stoicism would have appealed to not only the leaders of the Roman Empire but also more latterly to the British Empire and indeed any ideology that held as a principle that of military conquest and rule. It is desirable in such an ideology that soldiers show no fear and that your citizenry show a ‘stoic’ resolve in times of hardship that may be caused by military action brought about by the leaders who wish to stay in power. This may help to explain why Stoicism seems to have been the ancient philosophy that has continued to influence Western European thought in modern times.

The task that Stoicism sets itself is to reflect actively against the grain of one’s passions until they are devalued and neutralized, in fact that they might come to be seen as being unreal. Stoic control over the passions was achieved by the restraint of responsive habits and above all by eliminating the part played by surprise and suddenness. The stoic explanation noticed language as an act of the will by the means of which the world is viewed in such a way that experience is intercepted in a fixed manner. Therefore, to learn to use different words is a way to reposition the self’s angle of intersection with ongoing life. This is born out by the words of Marcus Aurelius when he describes the word ‘loss’ as meaning no more than ‘change’, thus diffusing the impact of a word of primary distress. Aurelius said; “Loss is no other than change; this is a source of joy to the nature of the whole and all that happens in accordance with it is good”.[10]Additionally, the advice of Epictetus in his Manual, is an example of self-preparation and re-picturing that would make the self immune to passionate response once the blows of experience occurred;

“Never say of anything ‘I lost it,’ but say, ‘I gave it back.’ Has your child died? It was given back. Has your wife died? She was given back. Has your estate been taken from you? Was not this also given back?”[11]

Stoicism sought the imperturbability of imagining itself surrounded by indifferent things bringing about a hard won calm against the passions (Fisher, P. 2002).

It is suggested that Stoicism allows that passions are the means by which the world can become ‘my’ world by remaking language away from the centred and simultaneously away from the passions. The language of this possessed world may seem to be the language of experience, and the perception that shapes it would appear to be instinctive. If that were the case, Stoic practice would become a violent and unnatural decentering of the world. However, Stoicism can here seize the word ‘natural’ for itself and see the everyday world as ‘unnatural’ as it is not in accord with the laws of nature taken as a whole. Change, not loss is a natural fact (Fisher, P. 2002).

In Stoicism, the self has to be reminded to be itself, to be recalled to itself. The Stoic assault on the passions affirmed the interdependence of humanism and the centred self, each of which insists on a centred world. A division of the self can occur that can actively pit certain aspects of the self against one another and the self must be called back to a steady state known as character. Character is meant to be a crafted object that has been set in place by training and philosophical self education, and then carefully maintained (Fisher, P. 2002).

Nussbaum indicates that the Stoics viewed the business of teaching as one of waking up the soul and causing it to take charge of its own activity. This is in line with the Socratic ideal that ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’.[12] Furthermore, the Stoic ideal of selfhood is demonstrated most succinctly by the teachings of Epictetus when, insisting that the student “Become yourself, both your own pupil and your own teacher”, he mocks the passivity of the needy student with harsh language; “Yes, but my nose is running.” “What have you hands for then slave? Isn’t it so that you can wipe your own nose?”[13]This emphasis on the independent and thinking self is further reinforced by Epictetus when advising students on the use of the great philosophical books,

“don’t just say that you have read them; show that through them you have learned to think better, to be a more discriminating and reflective person. Books are like training weights for the mind. They are very helpful, but is would be a bad mistake to suppose that one has made progress simply by having internalised their contents.”[14]

Schopenhauer seemed to reinforce this Stoic theme when he wrote; “Reading is merely a surrogate for thinking for yourself; it means letting someone else direct your thoughts”.[15] And again “Fundamentally it is only our basic thoughts that possess truth and life, for only these do we really understand through and through. The thoughts of another that we have read are crumbs from another’s table, the cast-off clothes of an unfamiliar guest”.[16]

If it is the commitment to rational argument that set philosophy apart from religion, dream interpretation and astrology, then it was Stoicism’s very particular commitment to the individual’s own active exercise of argument that set it apart from other forms of philosophy. The Stoic was suspicious of external authority for authority’s sake and revered only reasoning itself in its commitment to the fostering of rationality in the self and in the world as a whole. The motivation behind the whole Stoic philosophy was to show respect for what is most worthy in oneself and for what is most truly oneself. This cannot be achieved by anything but good argument. The understanding that it is one’s own capabilities that are in charge of what is most important is what frees the individual from external links of hierarchy and convention (Nussbaum, M. 1994).

In conclusion, perhaps Nussbaum best sums up the Stoic underpinning of the self when she says; “For the Stoic, reason stands apart, resisting all domination, the authentic and free core of one’s life as an individual and a social being. Argument shapes – and, eventually, is – a self, and is the self’s way of fulfilling its role as citizen of the universe.”

[1] Posed by Socrates in the first book of Republic (352d). back

[2] From Cic. TD 3.13 as cited in Nussbaum, M. 1994, p.317. back

[3] From Epict. Ench. 1.5 as cited in Nussbaum, M. 1994, p.328. (Italics added). back

[4] As cited in Nussbaum, M. 1994, p.329. back

[5] From Aurelius, M. 1980, ‘The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius’ in The Harvard Classics, Long, G. (trans), ed Eliot, C., Grolier Enterprises Corp., Connecticut, pp. 191-301. back

[6] Ibid. back

[7] Ibid. back

[8] From Nietzsche, F. 1974, The Gay Science, Kaufmann, W. (trans), Vintage Books, New York, 341, p. 273. back

[9] Ibid., 290, p 232. back

[10] From The Meditations (9.35) as cited in Fisher, P. 2002, p.220. back

[11] As cited in Fisher, P. 2002, p.220. back

[12] Nussbaum, M. 1994, pp.344-5. back

[13] Ibid. back

[14] Ibid. p.346. back

[15] From Hollingdale, R. (trans) 1970, Arthur Schopenhauer, Essays and Aphorisms, Penguin Books, London, Aphorism 4, p.90. back

[16] Ibid. Aphorism 3, p.90. back


Annas, J. 1993, The Morality of Happiness, Oxford University Press, New York.

Badaracco, J. 1997, Defining Moments, Harvard Business School Press, Boston, Massachusetts.

Fisher, P. 2002, Vehement Passions, Princeton University Press, New Jersey.

Hollingdale, R. (trans) 1970, Arthur Schopenhauer, Essays and Aphorisms, Penguin Books, London.

Nietzsche, F. 1974, The Gay Science, Kaufmann, W. (trans), Vintage Books, New York.

Aurelius, M. 1980, ‘The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius’ in The Harvard Classics, Long, G. (trans), ed Eliot, C., Grolier Enterprises Corp., Connecticut, pp. 191-301.

MacIntyre, A. 1984, After Virtue, University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, Indiana.

Motto, A. 1973, Seneca, Twayne Publishers, Inc., New York.

Nussbaum, M. 1994, The Therapy of Desire, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.

waiting for barthes

I just read again Barthes writing on waiting for the loved one and enjoyed it so much that I’ve copied it below in ‘more’. For Barthes, waiting is that “tumult of anxiety provoked by waiting for the loved being”. Although Barthes never wrote a single major piece, what he did write had a profound influence on the French philosophical and academic scene at that time.

Poor Mr. Barthes was killed when he stepped into the path of a bread truck. A miserable ending for such a talented person.

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will we ever change?

I’m reading Martha Nussbaum’s “The Therapy of Desire” at the moment which is a book that came about from a series of lectures (The Martin Classical Lectures) on Hellenistic (ancient Greece and Rome) ethics that Nussbaum gave in 1986.

In her introduction, Nussbaum sets her parameters for “the idea of a practical and compassionate philosophy” wherein she discusses the fact that the major Hellenistic schools were highly critical of society as they found it.

This direct quote of hers hit home with me in relation to the articles posted here recently about “Affluenza” and also about “The Cult of Capitalism”.

Instead of arranging to bring the good things of this world to each and every human being, they [the Hellenistic philosophers] focus on changes of belief and desire that make their pupil less dependent on the good things of this world.

It’s amazing how little things have changed in the last three thousand years!!