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Humanism - ignoring what we have in common with slugs

The Romantic dream of some infinite temporal unfolding of our creative powers had been aimed at a sternly repressive God, but had ended up as a humanist mirror-image of His omnipotence.

There was something unpleasantly self-promoting about this generous-sounding humanism, which in its haste to praise human uniqueness ignored what we had in common with slugs.

The appeal of cultural relativism is that it is a mode of dethroning the sovereignty of universal man.
Howver it is well to be aware of the vacuousness of claiming that everything is related to everything else – that my pitiful abiltiy with a tennis racket is related to Noval Djokovic's mimicry.

Central to antihumanism is the view that concepts of "human nature", "man", or "humanity", should be rejected as historically relative or as a metaphysical secular version of theism

Taking a lead from Brecht's twin attack on bourgeois and socialist humanism,[23] Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser coined the term "antihumanism" in an attack against Marxist humanists, whose position he considered a revisionist movement. Althusser considered "structure" and "social relations" to have primacy over individual consciousness, opposing the philosophy of the subject.

For Althusser, the beliefs, desires, preferences and judgements of the human individual are the product of social practices, as society moulds the individual in its own image through its ideologies.

Favouring the term "the decenter-ed subject" which implies the absence of human agency. Derrida, arguing that the fundamentally ambiguous nature of language makes intention unknowable, attacked Enlightenment perfectionism, and condemned as futile the existentialist quest for authenticity in the face of the all-embracing network of signs. He stressed repeatedly that "the subject is not some meta-linguistic substance or identity, some pure cogito of self-presence; it is always inscribed in language"
Foucault challenged the foundational aspects of Enlightenment humanism, as well as their strategic implications, arguing that they either produced counter-emancipatory results directly, or matched increased "freedom" with increased and disciplinary normatization.
His anti-humanist scepticism extended to attempts to ground theory in human feeling, as much as in human reason, maintaining that both were historically contingent constructs, rather than the universals humanism maintained.

Heidegger suggested that –isms have already caused enough ‘damage’ in an obvious reference to the various ideologies associated with the War – fascism, Nazism, Americanism, Communism, etc.  He moreover makes the suggestion that these labels are demanded by the market of public opinion, a point that Sartre also made in his Existentialism.

 Yet, this suggestion makes the implication that such –isms are unoriginal, as are the divisions in thought itself between ‘logic’, ‘ethics’ and ‘physics’ – even the term ‘philosophy’ itself only arose when ‘original thinking comes to an end.’ (LH, p. 219, 147)  All of these terms, again associated with Plato and Aristotle, would be emblematic of the technical interpretation of thinking.

 There is no longer thinking, but the technical discipline of philosophy, which is fragmented into the –isms of the competitive, modern marketplace of ideas.  The hegemony of ideologies, Heidegger states, is based upon ‘the peculiar dictatorship of the public realm.’ (LH, p. 221, 149)

T In this way, language becomes dominated by the necessities of the public realm, and thereby, becomes technical, grammatical communication.the dictatorship, for Heidegger, arises from the dominance of subjectivity, and in  this way, language becomes dominated by the necessities of the public realm, and thereby, becomes technical, grammatical communication.

Heidegger contends, ‘Instead language surrenders itself to our mere willing and trafficking as an instrument of domination over beings. Yet, Heidegger suggests, if we are to find the thread that will lead us out from the labyrinth of grammatical, technical language – so that we can once again come near to Being – we must ‘learn to exist in the nameless.’

On Humanism

Heidegger begins a historical recollection of the meaning of humanitas, of humanism, so as to decide ‘whence and how the essence of man is determined.’ (LH, p. 224, 151)  Heidegger travels through various determinations, from Marx (man is a social animal), to Christianity (man as distinct from God, who will return to God from his temporary stay in the ‘world’), and to the homo humanus (as distinct from homo barbarus) of the Roman Republic, achieved through the cultivation of virtue through Greek paideia (education). Heidegger contends that humanism is first established in Rome and ‘remains in essence a specifically Roman phenomenon.’ (LH, 224, 152) And, it is this phenomenon which re-surfaces in the Renaissance in which Greek (as seen by the Romans) and Roman learning re-emerged from under Gothic barbarism, but as an intrinsically Roman phenomenon.  This neo-humanism is again connected to Germany in the late 18th century under the names of Wincklemann, Goethe and Schiller.

Humanism’ is furthermore, for Heidegger,  an ambiguous term as it relies on auxiliary terms such as ‘freedom’ and ‘nature’ which differ according to the interpretative context.  For instance, Heidegger remarks that neither Marx nor Sartre would need to return to antiquity to use the term humanism in their own senses.  Christianity, moreover, has its own sense of humanism which is concerned with ‘man’s salvation’, where all of history is seen as the drama of the redemption of man.  Nevertheless, irrespective of their disagreements, each of these interpretations of humanism relay on ‘an already established interpretation of nature, history, world, and the ground of the world, that is, of beings as a whole.’ (LH, p. 225, 153)  In this way, Heidegger contends, every humanism is already a metaphysics, and thus already presupposes an interpretation of beings – and in this way, every humanism has already suppressed the question of Being.  Nevertheless, Heidegger remarks, the task of re-asking the question of Being will take place in the labyrinth of metaphysics and will appear initially as a metaphysical question.
What is important in the preceding is the obviousness with which the various interpretations of man presuppose a very elaborate metaphysics without ever admitting this fact to be the case.  As we can see, for instance, Sartre’s contention that the existence of man precedes his essence and that his essence is determined by his actions – is already a metaphysical position and one that presupposes a historically established notion of the essence of man.  Sartre opposes the theocratic and technological conceptions of man, but has not recognised that these are just varying species of humanism to which his own philosophy has a marked family resemblance.  Indeed, Sartre not only bases his philosophy upon Descartes, but also speaks of the necessity of the dignity of man in connection to his choice of the Cartesian philosophy.  However, this is not to begin in the nothing, before essence, but only one particular notion of essence.  In fact, even the valorisation of action is to tacitly assume a particular historically established essence of man.  That of which Sartre is not asking is the Being of man – and he does not do this as this question has already been suppressed by his modus operandi.
Heidegger contends that all of these various humanisms or humanistic ideologies are dependent on a universally recognised essence of man as an animal rationale, or a rational anima
Heidegger begins his treatment of Sartre with a consideration of the latter’s maxim: existence precedes essence.  Immediately, Heidegger situates this maxim in the traditional distinction between existentia and essentia, and comments that, from the time of Plato, it has been held that essentia preceded existentia.  He asserts that Sartre merely reverses the order of priority, and writes, ‘But, the reversal of a metaphysical statement remains a metaphysical statement
After giving a provisional answer to the question, Heidegger asks whether it is indeed necessary or even desirable to retain the word ‘humanism’ as it is bound up with misunderstandings and openly metaphysical obstructions to the truth of Being, and hence, to our very essence. Heidegger writes,
Or should thinking, by means of open resistance to “humanism,” risk a shock that could for the first time cause perplexity concerning thehumanitas of homo humanus and its basis?  In this way, it could awaken a reflection – if the world-historical moment did not itself already compel such a reflection – that thinks not only about man but also about the “nature” of man, not only about his nature but even more primordially about the dimension in which the essence of man, determined by Being itself, is at home. (LH, p. 248, 176)

eidegger is attempting to break out of the one-sidedness of what he regards as sterile antitheses which surround any statements involving advocacy or enmity, or the for and against.  Indeed, he is again calling into question the entire plane of propositional logic as the seat of truth and as the method by which such truth is disclosed.  For, as he suggests, logic is concerned with the representation of beings in the Being (and this in terms of a very particular notion of Being, such as substance, subjectivity, or some other being).  But, what of Being itself, in the sense that has been developed in his Letter?  How do we speak of the pre-logical?  Heidegger writes,
To think against “logic” does not mean to break a lance for the illogical but simply to trace in thought the logos and its essence, which appeared in the dawn of thinking, that is, to exert ourselves for the first time in preparing for such reflection.  Of what value are ever far-reaching systems of logic to us if, without really knowing what they are doing, they recoil before the task of simply inquiring into the essence of logos?
Heidegger contends that his pre-logical reflection upon logos (language) is not that which is irrational, but instead, it is logic which is irrational for denying access to the question of logos

 Nihilism occurs when the highest values de-value themselves – God dies the moment he is established as the highest being, i.e., such a procedure makes God just another being, and one indeed posited by the subject (as with Kant’s regulative ideas).
ndeed, such a concern for the existence of an infinite being betrays a lack of respect for the boundaries of thinking and that which is given for thought as the truth of Being.  Heidegger writes:
Thinking does not overcome metaphysics by climbing still higher, surmounting it, transcending it somehow or other; thinking overcomes metaphysics by climbing down into the nearness of the nearest.  The descent, particularly where man has strayed into subjectivity, is more arduous and more dangerous than the descent.
It is interesting that Sartre first came into contact with this word through the lectures by Alexandre Kojeve on Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit in which he famously stated that human existence is a nothingness that nihilates through time.  Nihilation in this sense is meant to refer to human action and our capacity to create and destroy simultaneously – for example, in order to make a cake, I must destroy seeds of wheat, eggs, sugar cane, etc.  I destroy/create through time with my actions.  Bataille, who was also present at Kojeve’s lectures (and was a friend of Sartre’s) also made much of our destructive aspect claiming that death is essential for all that we do, and all that we do is a detour toward death.  That which is significant in this context, with respect to Heidegger, is his denial of nihilation to the human ‘subject’.  Instead, he roots nihilation in the heart of Being itsel

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