Building a Heideggerian ethic

Kelly Ann Burns, Marquette University


The philosophy of Martin Heidegger has often been criticized for lacking any ethical content. Some thinkers have even suggested that there can be no Heideggerian ethic either because of his association with the National Socialist Party or because of concerns about Heidegger's focus on ontology. In Building a Heideggerian Ethic , I address concerns about Heidegger's associations with the Nazis, arguing that they do not provide grounds for dismissing his philosophy. I also look at Heidegger's focus on ontology and argue that it does not rule out the possibility of having an ethics. Consequently, I conclude that it is indeed possible to develop an ethics from Heidegger's description of Dasein in Being and Time , since this description entails a detailed discussion of the characteristics of Being-in-the-world. I then proceed to show how the concept of inauthenticity, which is described negatively and associated with everydayness, can be considered to be a pre-ethical state because it is untruthful and lacking in freedom. Inauthenticity necessarily precedes authenticity and inauthentic Dasein is not itself; it is a they-self. It relates to others in indifferent and deficient modes of solicitude. In this way, it lacks respect for the other and can dominate the other. Authentic Dasein, on the other hand, provides information about what a Heideggerian ethic might look like, particularly because of its emphasis on freedom and truth. While it is difficult to be authentic, since one must tolerate anxiety and not fall back into the 'they.' Authentic Dasein recognizes that death is one's ownmost possibility that is non-relational and not to be outstripped. By anticipating death resolutely, one can take responsibility for one's life and be ethical. I then develop the connection between authenticity and ethics. Ultimately, I illustrate that an ecofeminist ethic, as characterized by Karen J. Warren, would be one possible Heideggerian ethic. Using Heidegger's concept of "letting be," I show how such an ethic rejects the logic of domination. The ethic I develop provides situated universals whose use it determined by the context of the situation. I also show that the ethic I have developed is not consistent with fascist beliefs.

Recommended Citation

Burns, Kelly Ann, "Building a Heideggerian ethic" (2003). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3093135.