Tuesday, May 30, 2006

On the Essence of Truth--The Essence of Freedom

4. The Essence of Freedom
From the analysis already given we have little reason to give much credence to these criticisms, though we must be prepared for “a transformation of thinking” as we address what is lacking. Addressing the essence of freedom demands that we now examine “the essence of man in a regard that assures us an experience of a concealed essential ground of man (of Dasein) [this “ground” being freedom], and in such a manner that the experience transposes us in advance into the originally essential domain of truth.” One of the surprising claims Heidegger will make is that, if anything, freedom possess man, not the other way around: freedom is the ground upon which man must stand or, better put, man is freedom (later, Ereignis). Freedom allows for “the [125] inner possibility of correctness” because its own essence is found in “the more original essence of uniquely essential truth” which is open comportment that presences beings (see 122).

Recall that freedom was first spoken of as “freedom for what is opened up in an open region.” That which is “opened up” are beings (see 121-122) and these beings appear only within an open comportment that ‘creates a space’ wherein beings can appear.3 As the ground of this opening, the essence of freedom consists in “letting beings be” as they are. We usually speak of “letting be” in a negative sense in terms of relinquishing action; we do not ‘deal’ with something, but simply ‘let it be.’ But the notion of freedom we’ve given here, in terms of presencing beings (i.e. making beings present in an opening), does not allow for this negative definition: “To let be is to engage oneself with beings.” By letting beings be, we are open to beings in such a way that the beings can appear as they are. In other words, freedom is the capacity to allow beings to appear as they are, not as we would want them to be or as some preconceived theory demands. No other ground would allow us to make beings “the standard for the presentative correspondence” (122) as any predetermination on how beings can appear would, by definition, not let them appear as they are. The necessity of this should be apparent.

In the beginning of philosophy, the term used for the “open region” was ta alethea, or (literally translated) the unconcealed (a-lethea). Our use of a literal translation is not capricious; rather the literal translation “contains the directive4 to rethink the ordinary concept of truth in the sense of the correctness of statements and to think it back to that still uncomprehended disclosedness and disclosure of beings.” Disclosing beings through open comportment is to engage with beings in such a way that one’s preconceptions (see 118-119) withdraw so that beings can “reveal themselves with respect to what and how they are, and in order that representative correspondence might take its standard from them.” If it were the case that beings could only appear as they are constrained by our preconceptions (perhaps in a Kantian sense), then we would be incapable of letting beings be and we could not allow beings the privilege of being the “standard” for propositions. This “letting-be,” then, is [126] “intrinsically exposing, ek-sistent,” it is essentially tied to that which is transcendent from itself--being/beings.

With this understanding, freedom is not mere capriciousness or the absence of constraint (negative freedom); “[p]rior to all this...freedom is engagement in the disclosure of beings as such.” The disclosing itself, in its ek-static character, is preserved in comportment and even defines what it is, as “the ‘there’ [‘Da’].” By being Da-sein (literally, there-being, or being-there), by being and establishing a “there” (a context), man is able to exist, not in the sense of simply being present at a spatiotemporal coordinate nor as “man’s moral endeavor on behalf of his ‘self,’ based on his psychophysical constitution” (possibly alluding to Sartre’s appropriation [or mis-appropriation] of Heidegger’s thought), but being “rooted in truth as freedom” through openness to the disclosure of “beings as such.” On this primordial ground, “the ek-sistence of historical man begins at the moment when the first thinker takes a questioning [i.e. open] stand with regard to the unconcealment of beings by asking: what are beings?” By thus opening himself up to beings and by directing himself to the world around him, “unconcealment is experienced for the first time.” Within this openness, “Being as a whole” is seen in terms of physis, but not yet understood in the sense of a “particular sphere of beings” through mathematics/science, but beings in their “upsurgent presence.” The openness that man is can only be efficacious if there is something that enters into that opening; being/physis, then, is that which exudes, that upsurges, that flows into the opening.[127]

If “ek-sistent Da-sein” is grounded in freedom as the essence of truth and letting beings be, then caprice has no place in freedom. Freedom is constrained by beings, by our ability to disclose beings as they are. Similarly, we cannot say that man “possess” freedom as the opposite is the case: as the “there” (Da) of its being (Sein), openness “possess man” as it “secures for humanity that distinctive relatedness to being as a whole as such” which makes man what he is. Freedom, as disclosure (as Heidegger will later put it, as appropriation [Ereignis]) of beings, makes man what he is; he is understood in terms of his comportment with beings--as a teacher among students, blackboards, lessons, assignments, etc.; as a construction worker among buildings, power tools, foremen, engineering, etc.; as a Christian among rites, scriptures, beliefs, etc.--and cannot ‘be’ anything apart from this comportment, apart from some context (Da). This contextuality is what binds together everything we’ve already discussed:

Freedom, understood as letting beings be, is the fulfillment and consummation of the essence of truth in the sense of the disclosure of beings. “Truth” is not a feature of correct propositions which are asserted of an “object” by a human “subject” and then “are valid” somewhere, in what sphere we know not. Rather, truth is disclosure of beings through which an openness essentially unfolds [west]. All human comportment and bearing are exposed in its open region. Therefore man is in the manner of ek-sistence.
Every comportment of man has this openness and directedness toward beings, which thing is possible only through “the restraint of letting-be”--freedom. Similarly, it is only on this ground that correspondence is possible: only if we can let beings appears as they are can we give them the priority needed in correspondence. If man is currently ek-sistent (and he cannot be any other way), then he now possesses man’s “essential possibilities” through “the disclosure of beings as a whole”; the basic openness to beings, found in comportment through freedom, is available to all and is even the ground of history itself. It is the manner in which truth is unfolded through comportment at various points in history that creates an epoch, but the essence of comportment remains the same (which has been forgotten in technology). It is because things have been unconcealed as ‘resources’ that the ‘atomic age’ came about through such things as the Industrial Revolution (though, as we have seen, this manner of unconcealing began at least in the theism of the Middle Ages [see 118-119]).

If we understand truth’s essence as freedom, we must also admit to the possibility that “man can, in letting beings be, also not let beings be the beings which they are and as they are.” In this case, beings are covered (lethe) and mere “semblance” is made possible--a being can appear like something else in its appearing. “In [freedom] the nonessence of truth comes to the fore.” Since “ek-sistent freedom” is not [128] a property of man (see 127), as this ecstatic (etymologically--being outside oneself; ek--out--and stasis--place) freedom is itself what facilitates his historical mode of being, truth’s “nonessence” does not first appear because of man’s “incapacity and negligence” but derives its very essence from truth itself. In fact, it is because truth and untruth “belong together”5 that we can compare a true proposition with a false proposition. We now begin to see truth in a more essential way by including untruth in its essence; untruth does not fulfill this essential role by filling in gaps, but it plays an important role in “an adequate posing of the question concerning the essence of truth.” We have moved in our discussion from correctness (as the “usual concept of truth”) to the need of ecstatic (ek-sistent) comportment (which essentially includes man and being) to the place of freedom (which allows beings to appear as they are) and now we need to examine how untruth belongs to truth and freedom. Heidegger gives us a hint: “If the essence of truth is not exhausted by the correctness of the statement [requiring, as we have seen, presencing by open comportment which is made possible by freedom], then neither can untruth be equated with the incorrectness of judgments.”


  1. A comment from “The End of Philosophy and the Task of Thinking” might help us understand Heidegger’s point:
    We call this openness that grants a possible letting-appear and show “opening.” In the history of language the German word Lichtung is a translation derived from the French clairiere. It is formed in accordance with the older words Waldung (foresting) and Feldung> (fielding).

    The forest clearing (or opening) is experienced in contrast to dense forest, called Dickung in our older language. The substantive “opening” [Lichtung] goes back to the verb “open” [lichten]. The adjective licht “open” is the same word as “light.” To open something means: To make something light, free and open, e.g., to make the forest free of trees at one place. The openness thus originating is the clearing. What is light in the sense of being free and open has nothing in common with the adjective “light,” meaning “bright”--neither linguistically nor factually. This is to be observed for the difference between openness and light. Still, it is possible that a factual relation between the two exists. Light can stream into the clearing, into its openness, and let brightness play with darkness in it. But light never first creates openness. Rather, light presupposes openness. However, the clearing, the opening, is not only free for brightness and darkness, but also for resonance and echo, for sounding and the diminishing of sound. The clearing is the open region for everything that becomes present and absent.
    Joan Stambaugh, trans., in On Time and Being (New York: University of Chicago Press, 1972), 65.

    Light cannot penetrate a dense forest; a clearing, or opening, is needed for the light to appear. As such, man is the opening in which beings appear, the clearing that being can enter.

  2. Heidegger is not dabbling in ‘word mysticism,’ but is being consistent with his own philosophy: he is letting language direct him towards being. Aletheia is one term that the ancients used to discuss truth (or, as the later Heidegger viewed it, the essence of truth [i.e. open comportment]) and perhaps, as is the nature of language, it is directing us towards being in a certain way, allowing us to see being more primordially. A critic, then, must not focus on Heidegger’s drawing upon ancient Greek itself and his (often) poor etymology, but either on Heidegger’s understanding of language or what the Greek shows (i.e. makes present) in relation to beings and truth.

  3. In “The Principle of Identity,” Heidegger differentiates between “belonging together” (Zusammengehören) and “belonging together” (Zusammengehören). In the former we understand the “belonging” in terms of the “together,” as in just about anything can be placed in the vicinity of each other and hence can be “together.” On the other hand, when we understand the “together” in terms of the “belonging,” we see a tighter essential connection between the two, that they “belong” in their togetherness, or perhaps that they are ‘at home’ with one another (Identity and Difference, Joan Stambaugh, trans. (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1969), 29-30). It is the second essential belonging together that Heidegger means here--truth and untruth essentially belong together.

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