The Boundary Situation in Jaspers and Heidegger
The idea of a boundary situation (Grenzsituation) emerges early in the work of Karl Jaspers(1) and continues to be exploited through his contribution in Philosophy.(2) Jaspers identifies four boundary situations—death, chance (entailing a significant element of suffering), struggle, and guilt. For a student of Heidegger these bear a striking parallel to the corresponding existential structures (existentialia) of Dasein with chance functioning analogously to thrownness (Geworfenheit). While this essay honors both thinkers in their engagement with fundamental issues of being and being human and makes no claim about who read what book and when, the influence of Jaspers on the early Heidegger of Being and Time is significant without diminishing the originality of the latter's contribution. Jaspers is arguably also a philosopher of empathy in his discussion of "loving struggle" and "existenz with existenz" (P2 59, 360). For purposes of this essay, Heidegger is on the critical path to engaging an empathic relationship with the other individual and his work will be the target of inquiry, since he explicitly calls out the conversation with Edith Stein,(3) Max Scheler,(4) and Edmund Husserl.(5) Heidegger calls out the assignment of articulating a "special hermeneutic of empathy," yet does not give one in the course of Being and Time. This article engages that assignment and delivers significant results in the direction of completing the task.
The Rich Silence of Empathic Listening
For a Heideggerian interpretation of empathy, the interpretation of empathy must traverse the hermeneutic circle as the totality of ways of being in the world—human affectedness, understanding, interpretation, and speech. Of course, these are the four key existential structures of human being (Dasein). Understanding starts with the possibility of possibility for the other individual. Understanding is, further interpreted in perspectives, and is interpreted as the particular affectedness (Befindlichkeit) in which the other becomes present in person. This affectedness, in turn, points to a receptivity to the other human being that works from the particular affectedness towards the otherness of the other.
The second-person—the "thou"—is the human being who talks back. This leads directly to the task of inquiring into how empathy shows up in speech (Rede) and communication (Mitteilung). Heidegger's assignment of a hermeneutics of empathy reads it as applying to empathy as a form of being-with. Heidegger is explicitly referring to the existentialia (existential structure) of speech and how human beings operate with it. Here we join the text:
It [communication (Mitteilung)] brings about the "sharing" [Teilung] of co-affectedness [Mitbefindlichkeit] and of the understanding of being-with. Communication is never anything like a conveying of experiences, for example, opinion and wishes, from the inside of one subject to the inside of another. Human being with [Mitdasein] is essentially already manifest in co-attunement and understanding with. Being-with is ‘explicitly' shared [geteilt] in discourse…. In talking, human being expresses itself not because it has been initially cut off as "something internal" from something outside, but because as being-in-the-world it is already being outside... Being-in and its attunement are made known in discourse and indicated in language by intonation, modulation, in the tempo of talk, "in the way of speaking."(6)
In the course of a conversation, co-affectedness—Mitbefindlichkeit—is the way in which two human beings find one another attuned to each other. The openness goes beyond the pre-given meaning of the words to intonation, modulation, tempo of presentation, and the entire context of relatedness. In telling a joke, comic timing, the pauses both before and after the punch line, are the key to triggering the laugh. The context emphasizes speech but also relevant are the individual's capacity to be reassured by a friend's putting an arm around the shoulder wordlessly. This wordless assurance "speaks volumes." The experience of the one granting being [gelassen] to the other for what one is and what one is not—recognition and acceptance of shared humanness—is the empathic subtext of the relatedness.
Paradoxically, the manner of speaking in which empathy is made explicit is a privation—keeping silent and listening. In keeping silent we are open to the other and the other's way of being. Heidegger is a good Kantian in that he grasps openness to a form of receptivity that is specific to Dasein. One of the forms of empathic receptivity is listening:
"Listening to" is the human being's existential way of being open as being with others. Indeed, hearing constitutes the primary and authentic way in which human being is open for its own capacity for being—as in hearing the voice of the friend whom every human being carries with him. The human being hears because he understands...
Keeping silent [das Schweigen] is another essential possibility of speech [Rede], and it has the same existential foundation. In talking with one another, the person who keeps silent can "make one understand" (that is, he can develop an understanding), and he can do so more authentically than the person who is never short of words.... As a mode of discourse, falling silent [Verschwiegenheit] articulates the intelligibility of human being in so basic a manner that it gives rise to a potentiality-for-hearing which is genuine, and to a being-with-one-another which is transparent."(7)
The metaphor of "the voice of the friend whom every human being carries with him" is both a metaphor as well as a literal fact, since Dasein can hear the faint (and indeed sometimes loud) echo of conversations in listening. In case, the reader is wondering what voice is being invoked it is the voice that just asked, "What voice?" A dialogical model is presented, reminiscent of Socrates discussion in the Theatetus (189e-190a), which is yet another way of dealing with the internal dialogue. The different constituents of the human being's self represent the caller and the one to whom the call is made. Heidegger develops an extensive discussion of conscience. He distinguishes conscience as a faculty that praises and blames, rewards and punishes (which is not what Heidegger has in mind), from the conscience which functions in transforming the inauthentic they-self ("the one") into an authentic individual who chooses commitments autonomously.
The Paradox of Empathic Speech—Quiescing the Idle Chatter
The optimal form of speech in which empathy is articulated is as empathic listening. Of course, this is a paradox and a transformation of the traditional use of "conscience." The call of conscience that occurs is a call to be one's authentic possibilities. Conscience is transformed in its meaning and used by Heidegger to inquire innovatively into the authentic self. Conscience is not a function of praising or blaming. The message is not an explicit command such as "Shut up and listen!" However, if you listen to conscience, the result is a quieting of the idle chatter of the voice over, a falling silent. This quiescing of the idle chatter [Gerede]—both between individuals and within the individual's own thinking—is such as to enable, develop, and implement empathy. Obviously, in order to listen, human beings must fall silent:
We characterized silence [Schweigen] as an essential possibility of speech [Rede]. Whoever wants to give something to understand in silence must "have something to say." In the "call to" [Anruf], being human gives itself to understand its own potentiality-of-being. Thus this calling [Ruf] is a falling silent. The speech of conscience never rings out loudly. Conscience only calls silently, that is, the call [der Ruf]... calls [ruft] being human thus called back to the stillness of itself, and calls it to become still... [C]onscience thus understands this silent discourse appropriately only in falling silent [Verschweigenheit]. It takes the words away from the commonsense idle chatter of the one [das Man]. [BTS 273, SZ 296
The individual Dasein is called back from distractedness in the world of gossip (the idle chatter of the one). This text is rich with paradoxes about calling silently, authentic speech expressing itself as listening, and conscience having something to say but expressing itself in stillness. What is the point?
The point engaging Heidegger here is the requirement to quiet and make still the idle chatter running off in one's head by invoking the equivalent of a Zen Koan. The latter is, of course, a paradoxical statement that opens an inquiry into what one does not even know that one does not know—one's blind spot(s). Heidegger is doing something in this text other than asserting, arguing, describing, or telling. Admittedly, such a maneuver is startling to the reader. Therefore, let's take a step back.
Heidegger cannot suddenly launch into a discussion of introspection, meditation, listening to oneself, in completing his analysis of being-in as care. Why not? It is not even clear that Heidegger would endorse the existence of consciousness, and he is definitely anti-subjective. In general, Heidegger is not interested in introspection and consciousness (as distinct from subjectivity). He does not even mention consciousness until the last page of Being and Time. However, before dismissing the possibility, it should be noted that in that final remark, Heidegger does explicitly allow the possibility of a positive, not reified, account of consciousness (SZ 437). Still, if Heidegger were to start on an account of introspection, it would be positively structured (as he puts it) by a listening for the silent call of conscience. Such a listening has to quiesce the idle chatter of the inauthentic relations with others as well as the idle chatter that is owned as "mine" by Dasein and loosely described in everyday speech as streaming off within one's head, commenting on everyone and everything that goes by. Quiescing the idle chatter is what Heidegger is doing here by presenting paradoxes. Without exactly saying how one effects such a quiescing—as suggested here by reflecting on Heidegger's paradoxes as if they were Zen Koans—or other spiritual disciplines and meditation, getting with Gelassenheit (so to speak), physical exercise, psychoanalysis (therapy), etc.—once the quiescing is implemented, however transiently, then the individual is ready to listen—ready to empathize. Obviously this goes beyond what Heidegger explicitly says; but, from the perspective of recovering empathy as the form and foundation for authentic human interrelatedness and community, it is what he needs to say in order to complete his self-invoked assignment of a special hermeneutic of empathy.
The Authentic, Committed Listening of Empathy
A clearing is created for a committed listening with the other individual that itself clears the way for possibilities—making decisions, resolutions, commitments. And while a human being can declare a commitment in isolation, the implementation of such a commitment inevitably requires being with others. Commitments, decisions, resolutions are never undertaken in a vacuum; rather they require the other to witness the commitment and to whom it is made:
As authentic being a self, commitment does not detach human being from its world, nor does it isolate it as free floating ego. How could it, if commitment as authentic disclosedness is, after all, nothing other than authentically being-in-the-world? Commitment brings the self right into its being together with things at hand, actually taking care of them, and pushes it toward concerned being-with with the others [BTS 274; SZ 298; "commitment" translates "Entschlossenheit," also translatable as "decision" or "resoluteness"]
The above-cited passage clears the way to reinterpretating authentic human being with one another as empathy.
Empathy: The Third Alternative to the Inauthentic Crowd and Authentic Aloneness
Here, after much exegesis, we finally arrive at an alternative of being alone in the face of death and being inauthentic with others (as "the one"). Here, for the first time, individual human beings are with others and authentic. We are now engaged authentically with others. This releases authentic being with others with the emphasis on freeing others for their own possibilities. This cast light on the celebrated passage, in which the one individual becomes the conscience of another human being in offering an authentic, committed listening in empathy. Here our interpretation and amplification of Heidegger reaches a culmination as "becoming the conscience of others" is a close paraphrase for "listening empathically":
The commitment toward itself first bring human beings to the possibility of letting the others who are with it "be" in their own potentiality-of-being, and also discloses that potentiality in concern which leaps ahead and frees. The committed [entschlossene] human being can become the "conscience" of others. It is from the authentic being a self of commitment that authentic being-with-one-another first arises, not from ambiguous and jealous stipulations and talkative partying with the boys [Verbrüderungen] in the they and in what "they want to do." [BTS 274; SZ 298]
A subtle shift has occurred. Conscience is no longer a way of relating to oneself, calling an individual back from its flight to distractedness in conforming to what they do. Conscience has now shifted to a way of relating to others—a way of relating to the other empathically. Heidegger's discussion of conscience—not as something encoded as inner and the everyday capacity for blaming and laying on a guilt trip intra-personally, but encoded interpersonally as relating to the other as one's conscience, clearing the way for concerned being with others; as indicated, not in the sense of scolding or blaming but in the sense of a committed listening (with empathy) to the other.
Empathy as Becoming the Conscience of the Other
In empathy one can become the conscience of the other. Given Heidegger's special interpretation of conscience, it works both ways—for the self and for the other. Now imagining that I am the beneficiary of empathy and speaking in the first person, the (empathizing) other provides a clearing for me to listen to myself, by the other's listening empathically to me. The other takes a stand for me—is literally being there (Dasein) for me. I experience myself as other to you, in reciprocal empathy as the target of your empathy. In turn, this furthers recovering the authentic possibilities of my own self. For the self is defined by commitment, and as in the key passage below (SZ 322), the self is something to be ‘won'. This is an account of the self engaged in the world with others as a projected possibility to be attained, not as the metaphysical permanent in inner perception.(8)
Heidegger's individualization of the self as the individual's ownmost possibility in the face of death is good as far as it goes, but misses the possibility of authentic being with others. Human beings (Dasein) are predictably inauthentic when conforming to the everyday norms of "the one," the "they self" (das Man), a feature not expected to change under any interpretation. Heidegger held open the possibility of a logical space of authentic being with others, but it remained undeveloped. Humans are usually distracted and just follow the crowd. Heidegger's explicit argument in Being and Time is that humans are called back from lostness in "the one" in the confrontation with death. I submit that Heidegger's position should be amplified to allow that humans are also called back from the distraction in everyday busyness in and by authentic being with others—others who remind us of our finitude and humanity in fundamental ways, different than but related to death.
The argument is that authentic Mitsein—being with others—is precisely the place in which the missing section on authentic being with others through empathy ought to be located in Being and Time. Without specifying the nature of this encounter between the one and the other—possibility a radicalization of ontic Mitdasein in the direction of ontological otherness of the ecstatic and ethical kind of which, for example, Lévinas writes or simply an openness to the other in respect—a logical space created for authentic being with others and indeed created as and in empathy.(9)
Yet, for Lévinas, the position is ethics against empathy. Empathy falls on the side of totality, not infinity. The key term defining Lévinas' position is "absolute" (TI 66). The other, the face—in this passage, the eye(s)—embody the absolute The absolute points toward and includes the infinity that is constantly in play in Totality and Infinity. In contrast, empathy totalizes the self and the other in providing evidence as a trace affect of how the self and the other are similar or even transiently identified; whereas ethics requires the other as a radically other, infinitely other, ethical demand. Yet the reader cannot help but suspect that there is an enlarged sense of empathy beyond the specific intentionality of apprehending in evidence what another feels because I feel it too. Empathy provides evidence of the other in that I know what you feel, because I feel it too, at least as a trace affect. The face is also a "hot spot" of empathic clues and receptivity. Yet, for Lévinas, evidence of the other would be the ethically irrelevant, toy problem of other minds in (merely) academic philosophy. In empathy, the self and other form (or would form) a totality; but the ipseity (the self) of the I and the other go beyond totality into the infinity of absolute separation and difference in which the self and other are infinitely incommensurable. From this Lévinasian perspective, empathy is a regression to intentional phenomenology, a regression to Heideggerian care, a regression to inauthenticity. An attempt to reconcile the tension between empathy and the other in Lévinas argues that empathy, even as a method of gathering evidence, contains at its core an irreducible respect for the other and the other's absolute demand that, independent of approval or disapproval, recognizes the other's infinite authority to block my arbitrary actions towards her or him.
Yet for a being in the world in which the absolute is eclipsed by thrownness, the requirement of an empathic form of being with presses forward. The missing special hermeneutic (interpretation) of empathy, for which Heidegger called but "forgot" to provide—is provided as the argument of this article works through the fundamental design distinctions of affectivity, understanding, and speech. In this context, Heidegger explicitly points to the way in which care (Sorge) encompasses care-for-others (Fürsorge—usually translated as solicitude), but neglected to exploit the breakthrough to authentic being with others in anything but a few passing ontical remarks.
Death and the Other: Between Individualization and Humanization
For Heidegger, death individualizes Dasein. For Heidegger's special hermeneutic of empathy, empathy humanizes Dasein. The parallel and comparison between the individualization of being human through death and humanization through the other's granting of humanness is in place. Consider: For Heidegger, the self of the human being (Dasein) is individualized in its ownmost possibility of death (no more Dasein). The anxiety that results discloses Dasein's being as a whole ontologically. This calls back Dasein from its distractedness in the superficial persona that it presents in conforming to the roles of the anonymous others—das Man, the one—that form the everyday fallen "they self." Ontically, death is an advisor, counseling human being to chose wisely and to chose like its being was at stake.
In parallel with this is the humanization through empathy. The encounter with physical death is a model for the emergence of humanness of the self through its being humanness granted by the other in empathic interrelatedness. The loss of empathy in the withdrawal of the other is the loss of one's humanness, a kind of death in life, in a sense, worse than physical death itself (which after all is only a demise that is by definition and actuality never completely experienced by the living). In the everyday (ontic) encounter of one individual with another and in the ontological relationship between self and other in which a reciprocal inquiry into humanness is engaged in empathy, the loss of empathy provided by the other is dreaded as much as death itself. Respect for the other gives way to dread of loss of the other. The respect for the other characteristic of the way in which the other is disclosed in affectedness gets radicalized to the extreme of anxiety (dread) as the inevitable possibility of death is grasped as not shareable with the other. Yes, death is formidable and not to be avoided; and, yet, what is really overwhelming is that the other is lost along with myself. The loss of the other is so devastating in that it means the loss of humanness, the loss of emotional vitality, the loss of the advantages and disadvantages of human interrelatedness. If one is still alive physically, then one is a mere shell of oneself. Empty. Nothing happens anymore. From that perspective, the loss of the other is equiprimordial (gleich ursprünglich, as Heidegger says) with the inevitable possibility of death; and it does not make sense to try to say which is more basic. From the perspective of individualization, death has priority; from the perspective of humanization, otherness does. According to this approach, empathy is not merely a cognitive function of knowing what is going on with other (though it is perhaps that too); it is a foundational way of being in the world with other beings. Empathy is ontological, and its withdrawal or absence is an ontological crisis (who am I?) that renders individuals (and communities) vulnerable to breakdowns that are dreaded as much (and sometimes more) than death itself.(10) The result?
Ontically, the care-taker (parent) uses empathy to satisfy the needs of the infant, gaining access to what she or he feels because the caretaker feels it too in the form of a trace (vicarious) affect, thus, deploying the caretaker's humanness to bring into being another human being as member of the community (family); ontologically, the infant creates the condition of possibly of empathic parenting by her or his readiness for humanness, which may indeed show up as a lack of socialization. The caretaker socializes the infant; the infant humanizes the caretaker, calling it not just to its role as parent (though it does that too) but also to its possibility as a human being in committed relationship through thick and thin to another emerging human being. The infant by its very being gives the parent his humanness—as it were, making the parent an inquirer, if not an expert in adulthood, in being a human—so that the parent can give it (humanness) back to the infant in a hundred-and-one contingent circumstances requiring empathy.
Ontically, the Good Samaritan uses empathy to grasp who is his neighbor prior to taking altruistic action as he experiences the distress of the injured traveler; ontologically, the traveler who had fallen among thieves and was left for dead creates the possibility of empathic community by his loss of humanness. The Samaritan rescues the traveler; the traveler humanizes the Samaritan, calling him not just to the role of an altruist performing a good deed (though that too occurs) but to its possibility as a human being in relation to another finite, fragile, dependent human being. The injured Jewish traveler by his very being gives the Samaritan his humanness—as it were, making the Samaritan a fellow inquirer in saying who is the neighbor—so that the Samaritan can give it (humanness) back to the distressed traveler in an act of rescue that defines them as part of the same community of fellow travelers on the road of life.
Ontically, the friend wordlessly embraces the other in his empathically felt joy and sorrow with the friend's joy and sorrow; ontologically, the other creates the possibility of friendship by his shared humanness. The other by his very being gives the friend his humanness—making the friend an inquirer into what it means for friends to share human experiences as friends – so that the friend can give it humanness back to the friend in an act of friendship that makes them a part of the same community of friends.
Empathy as Foundational Being With
The next step needs to be taken by linking the analysis of the self as care with empathy as foundational being with. As noted previously, taking a stand on one's being in the face of death is what gives the self constancy and continuity. Heidegger does not distinguish taking a stand for oneself versus taking a stand for another, as in empathic listening, since Heidegger's interest in this section is to undercut the discussions of the "I" as the persisting subject, the permanent in inner perception or continuous "I think" that accompanies all one's representations (especially Kant's). But Heidegger should have made such a distinction from the perspective of founding authentic interrelations; and it is readily available based on the work he has already done. The self is solidified through care as "taking a stand" (Ständigkeit):
In terms of care, the "taking a stand" of the self, as the supposed persistence of the subject, gets its clarification. The phenomenon of this authentic potentiality-of-being, however, also opens our eyes to the constancy of the self in the sense of its having gained a stand [Standgewonnenhaben]. The constancy of the self in the double sense of constancy and steadfastness is the authentic counter-possibility to the lack of constancy [Unselbst-ständigkeit] of irresolute falling.... Its ontological structure reveals the existentiality of the selfhood of the self. [BTS 296-7, SZ 322]
Taking a stand is what gives the self constancy and continuity; and taking a stand is understood as taking a stand for something or someone who requires, needs, or merits standing for. A simple, though not necessarily obvious, next step is to amplify taking a stand into an empathic taking a stand for another, i.e., literally being there for the other. This is precisely taking a stand for the other—in empathy as an individual human being takes a stand for the other.
Now the structure of the self maps precisely to that of care. Once again "care" should not be misunderstood as ministering to one's needs for food, shelter, companionship. Human beings (Dasein) are designed such that "who am I?" is an issue for them. Care is the requirement that humans have to answer the question based on being thrown into a situation not of their own choosing, living into a future that they have the power to choose and implement (though only imperfectly), on the basis of entanglements with everyday distractions such as conforming to implicit norms and conventions. In this context, the unavoidable inevitability of death shows up like a cold show—and leaves one shivering, too, though with anxiety (fear and trembling), not physical cold. The unavoidable inevitability of the other also shows up in a confronting and sometimes surprising way—the loss of the other is also a kind of death—not physical but of one's humanness.
The Inevitable Possibility of Death—and the Inevitable Possibility of the Other
The inevitability of the other—in unavoidable attachment and separation, in unavoidable relatedness and detachment, in inevitable understanding and misunderstanding—shows up like a bestowal of life giving humanness in empathy. This definitely goes beyond what Heidegger explicitly says to ask about the loss of the other, but in the context of authentic being with others, it makes sense to do so. The loss of the other is different than the anxiety occasioned by fear of death. The loss of the other is the loss of one's humanness—ontological, not physical, death—the loss of one's human self. Without others to whom to relate in and through empathy, one is reduced to the level of an emotionless zombie. Life becomes empty and meaningless in the face of which even negative emotions—hostility, anger, hatred—can seem better than the hollow lethargy and apathy of emptiness—a kind of spiritual depression. Nothing happens. Yes, the sun rises and sets, yet nothing matters. All is empty. Ultimately, the loss of the other is the loss of the other's empathy for one, expressed in the first person, for me. One's empathy for the other renders him accessible; the other's empathy for the one (e.g., me) makes one human and fills one with satisfaction and life itself. Of course, as with the individualizing experience of anxiety in the face of death, the experience of the other need not always be a happy one. However, what this article has argued is that the respect disclosed by the presence of the other—a respect that discloses empathy affectively—is equally powerful to the individualizing experience of anticipating death in calling the human being back from its lostness in the "they self" (the one) to the humanness of the authentic self.
The other individual is present in a variety of ways. A pattern emerges. The other individual shows up as an unavoidable inevitability of demands of the other to be responsible (e.g., according to Lévinas). The other shows up as another mind that one finds endlessly perplexing (as in John Wisdom or Edmund Husserl in certain phases). The other shows up as suffering that requires a response and support (according to the parable of the Good Samaritan) where for the unfortunate traveler, who was attacked by thieves and left for dead, the other is precisely the life-giving Samaritan, whose empathy grasps the Jew as his neighbor and compels him to acts of altruism (however, the altruism is not reducible to empathy or vice versa). The other shows up the moral law exemplified by the other (as in Kant). All of these, according to the pattern, amplify the "taking a stand" of the above-cited quote (SZ 322) into an empathic taking a stand for another, i.e., literally being there for the other—taking a stand for the other—in empathy as an individual human being takes a stand for the other.
Empathy as Taking a Stand for the Other
The next step is to amplify "taking a stand" into an empathic taking a stand for another, i.e., literally being there for the other. This is precisely taking a stand for the other—in empathy an individual human being takes a stand for the other. Such a stand can look like tough love as in intervening with an addict. Or the stand may well be to let the other struggle to come to grips with his or her possibilities rather than leaping in and taking them away from the other. Or it may be that the other is reminded in a released (gelassen) way about living up to what is possible for it, but of which it is temporarily unaware. All these possibilities—and more—occur.
The final step is direct. Human beings are the beings for whom their being is an issue. The structure of that issue is designated by care. Dasein—both the word and the phenomenon of human being—does not distinguish between one human being or many human beings. This is a fine point that is usually not relevant. Here it is crucial, and one of the reasons that Heidegger chose it. "Dasein" as a form of life—a way that a human being engages in being human.(11) This includes the distinction between oneself and the other. Therefore, the structure of care maps directly to empathy as being an entity for whom being is an issue for oneself and for the other.
The stand by which an issue is engaged is informed by one's respect for the other. It is informed by empathic receptivity, the interpreted possibilities of empathic understanding, and the committed falling silent and rich stillness of empathic listening. Only if I listen, can I hear the call of the self, the other's self calling the other one back to its own authentic possibilities. If I listen, then I can release the other into hearing his own call to himself. In unpacking affectedness in possibilities of understanding as an interpretation that articulates possibilities of the other, taking a stand as listening is precisely the kind of distinction that is required by a full, rich way of being with human being that is empathy.(12)