Martin Heidegger

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What is the difference between authenticity and inauthenticity according to Martin Heidegger?

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When we are born, we already find ourselves occupying a specific social environment, with all its rules, laws, and social conventions. We have been "thrown" into a social world, as Heidegger would say. Yet sooner or later the human being (or Dasein) is confronted with a stark existentialist choice. Either it can blindly accept the ways of Das Man or "Them," that is to say society's established conventions; or, it can face up to its own mortality and live a life that is suitably determined by a newfound understanding of the significance of that mortality. The former attitude is what Heidegger means by inauthentic; the latter, is what he would call authentic.

As we have been thrown into a world which we didn't create and whose values have already been shaped for us, it's inevitable that in order to achieve authenticity, we must first live inauthentically. But for Dasein to live authentically, it is necessary to be alerted by a general state of anxiety or Angst to the fact of our mortality. To be sure, this isn't anxiety in the normal, psychological sense of the word; it has no specific object, like fear. It's a mood of unease, a sense of not being at home in the world of Das Man. But it's a valuable mood because it forces us to confront our own mortality instead of running away from it as characterized by an inauthentic existence.

Most of us don't think about death if we can help it. Much of our lives are devoted to engaging in various diversions to make us forget our inescapable mortality. We act as if we're going to live forever. It is only at some moments in our lives, such as those of bereavements or potentially life-threatening illnesses, that we become acutely aware of our own mortality. An authentic attitude to life takes this posture a step further so that we recognize in general terms that human being, or Dasein, is always being-towards-death.

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We are born into a world in which our family, physical realities, social structures, etc. shape our identities. To accept this without a second thought is to live inauthentically. Those who critically about the way our identities are shaped by our reality take the first step to living more authentically. Although some inauthenticity is unavoidable, those who think most critically about their existential situation will be more able to choose their own identities. 

Heidegger thought that one who thinks critically about existence engaged in existential anxiety ("angst" in his writings) and this comes from the project of accepting responsibility for choosing one's own identity. That is, people tend to go about their daily lives without questioning everything. The authentic human entity begins this questioning, and in doing so is face with the anxiety of questioning his/her own Being (Dasein). For Heidegger, one must accept that he/she is essentially a "being-in-the-world." And to accept responsibility for one's own identity, to be authentic, one must accept mortality: "being towards death." In accepting a "being towards death" attitude, a person accepts responsibility by accepting this individual fate. No one can die for another person; therefore each person is, in this sense, responsible for his/her own death. Accepting the inevitability of death, a human entity is less likely to procrastinate and more likely to actively engage in critical analysis of life; more likely to pursue a more authentic life. 

Choosing to move from a generalized "they-self" to a more individually responsible "Being-one's-Self" is:

deciding for a potentiality-for-Being, and making this decision from one's own Self. In choosing to make this choice, Dasein makes possible, first and foremost, its authentic potentiality-for-Being.

(Heidegger tends to use terms like "human entity" instead of pronouns or terms like "subject" because he thinks terms such as these are philosophically misleading.) The human entity's 'existence' ("Dasein") is made authentic if that human questions tradition thereby opening new possibilities. This authenticity of questioning cultural and social traditions (as well as questioning the history of philosophy) is seen by some theorists as an influence on the postmodernist critique of metanarratives. Heidegger's proposed "destruction" of the history of philosophy was a precursor and influence on deconstruction, particularly in the work of Jacques Derrida. 

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