Heidegger and Kierkegaard on Individuality/Authenticity
Many philosophers view existentialism as an explicit conceptual manifestation of an existing attitude and a spirit of present day rather than simply a philosophy or a philosophical revolution. Understanding existentialism seems challenging and complex because it attempts a philosophical realization of a self-consciousness existing in a broken and ambiguous world. The existential attitude sets in when confused individual interacts with the world they cannot understand and accept. In this respect, existentialism creates the theme of personal autonomy synthesized and absorbed into a transcendental movement of reasoning. Additionally, existentialism is linked to thinking as it grants individuals with a sense of self-discovery. Relatedly, existentialism is also attached to the theme of authenticity as genuineness or realness of artifacts and events. In the human attribute, authenticity signifies the sense of being one’s true self and being right to one’s essential nature. Existentialist philosophers such as Heidegger and Kierkegaard have proposed arguments that have generated both similar and differing opinions on existential individuality and authenticity. The paper aims to explain, compare, and contrast Heidegger and Kierkegaard’s concepts on existential individuality and authenticity.
The idea of individuality plays a vital role in the cultivation of self-belief. Modern society has chosen to ignore the individual spontaneity as it is perceived to be lacking right in itself and not seen as essential to well-being. The aspect of individuality originates from childhood where people are trained to accumulate knowledge of human experience. During adulthood, people express individuality basing it on the experience gathered in childhood as they seem fit. Moreover, individuality can be interpreted as the development of character, which determines individual’s moral values and the ability to make choices rather than simply accept general customs without saying. Personal desires and impulses are responsible for influencing the development of an individual’s character. On the contrary, one fails to develop a self-character and an aspect of individualism if one and desires and impulses are not their own (Solomon, 2005, p.14).
Kierkegaard based much of his philosophical explanation of religious aspects on analyzing the ethical imperative in existential individuality and authenticity. For Kierkegaard, an act of selfhood amounts to true individuality. Kierkegaard’s explanations on individuality indicate there is a close similarity with authenticity. He argues that, like authenticity, the primary element of individuality is to become aware of real self and endeavors in life. In a true religious understanding, individuals are likely to exist in a less authentic selfhood states (Solomon, 2005, p 18). For instance, one can live only thinking of pleasures, distractions, and propensities to satisfy their desires immediately. In this respect, people tend to glide through life without a particular motive or direction. Therefore, for one to have a particular direction, they ought to have a clear purpose that defines the meaning of life. Additionally, Kierkegaard associates self-individuality with a subset of relation. In this sense, the nature of humanity appears to emanate from a relationship between the internal spirit, which is infinite, and the finite body. According to Kierkegaard, these will not establish a true self as a human being can exist without an element of selfhood (Solomon, 2005, p.23). Instead, the creation of selfhood can be attained through a relationship with God rather than only a relationship between finite body and infinte spirit. In the existential thinking, Kierkegaard argues that coming into existence is realized through an individual inner decision which thereby understood the meaning of reality at its deepest. However, it involves not only the intellect but also the personality of an individual. Kierkegaard’s act of shifting the balance from a person possession of those ideas to the objectives of world’s ideas renders the argument to be purely theoretical rather than practical (Solomon, 2005, p.29)
Kierkegaard defines an individual as a person complex being who cannot be captured by either a distinct formula or definition. Therefore, in an attempt to explain individuality, one has to exist solely and not in a crowd since this will reduce the actual meaning of an individual’s life. Kierkegaard believes that categorizing individuals while in groups will result into a misconception rather than when it will be difficult to learn differences among the individuals. For Kierkegaard, the nature of individuals’ existential differences is what makes people who they are. Additionally, Kierkegaard has gone to an extent to criticize the modern perspective of individuality. The modern society has managed to diffuse the real essence of individualism through its production of the false idol of the public, thereby losing its abstractions and fantasies. Kierkegaard has put the blame on deterioration in the understanding individuality on the media (Solomon, 2005, p.45).
On the other hand, Heidegger’s concept of authenticity indicates they are themselves existentially. Unlike individuality, feeling self-existence under authenticity provides a deeper feeling of oneself regarding psychological behavior. One has to exist according to their nature to be oneself, which exceeds the routine behavior, activities, and the thinking of one’s self. Moreover, Heidegger argues that the existential self is not conforming, enduring, and transient because the existential authenticity is experienced oriented. In this respect, an individual cannot be authentic and unauthentic at all time since there is no absolute authentic self, and one can only be either shortly authentic or inauthentic in different occasion (Solomon, 2005). In an attempt to explore the concept of existential authenticity, Heidegger insists that an individual needs to have a sense of humanity, whereby humanity is the rational behavior that distinguishes a human being from other persons. Heidegger’s primary idea is that human being exhibit authenticity if they have possibilities, options, and the capacity to choose from (Solomon, 2005, p.120).
Although authenticity presents a different concept, it has some similarities with the concept of individuality as it also covers aspects such as self-identity, meaning making, and anxiety. However, authenticity centers mostly on being in touch with one’s inner self, having a sense of one’s identity and, therefore, living in one’s sense of one’s self. An individual is said to be authentic if they can carry themselves in a manner and assert their inner will in making decisions and choices when confronted with options and possibilities. Relatedly, an advanced level of authenticity is presumed to be in agreement with one’s experiences instead, basing their interpretation of the world’s standardized abstractions and concepts. As individuality focuses on reality, authenticity perceives reality as meaningless, as people ought to make meaning by how they undertake their lives to attain authentic existential. The creation of meaning in life entails love, suffering, and acting creatively through experiences, hence, developing truth. Authenticity contrasts with individuality in the aspect of reality since prompts the meaninglessness of existence which generates anxiety thereby prompting people to seek the courage to face it (Solomon, 2005, p.102).
Heidegger agrees that the existence of the world exists as a network of interrelated phenomena, in that every aspect has a connection in one way or another. Notably, the connection can exist irrespective of whether the individual has experience or not as they already exist. Additionally, Heidegger perceives that a connection should be preexisting to give the experience a true meaning to individuals (Solomon, 2005, p.105). This contradicts Kierkegaard’s argument that a person establishes a connection of things during instances of connecting experiences. Similarly, the idea is contrary to the dark existential belief that the connection between the world and life is devoid of meaning. Kierkegaard point of view is that the connection of things emerges because of historical events, experiences, and the discoveries of people who existed before. Therefore, during the modern age people have acquired their facet of individuality through inheritance and destiny via memories preserved in books, arts, culture, and myth from individuals who existed before. On the other hand, Heidegger argues that the connectedness of the world preexistence allows individual to explore and view how things look like how an item can be used and the meaning of these elements (Solomon, 2005, p.75).
Heidegger differs from Kierkegaard on the issue of the exclusive question on how individuals view the world. According to Heidegger framework, unique options that stem out from this point of view are the primary basis of authenticity. On the contrary, Kierkegaard believes that the available possibility grants individuals a chance to choose a viewpoint, which will define their personality and place in the world. However, this argument prompts the question that seeks to establish how one’s question in the world is created. Taking the premise from Heidegger’s promises, one’s place in the world is set based on their perspective and how they project this point of view in the world. Indeed, if people project themselves into the world, they stand to appear as empty, and this provides a ground for the development of authenticity (Solomon, 2005, p.110).
Interestingly, identifying individuality from a religious perspective is better than perceiving it as a natural attribute that a person acquires naturally during childhood. Religion demands people to associate individualism with general accepted codes of Christianity. In this respect, the individuality should be positive if it is based on God’s will. Therefore, Kierkegaard’s discussion on individuality based on the concept of religion is close to being the truth.
In conclusion, Kierkegaard’s and Heidegger’s explanation of individuality and authenticity bears both similarities and differences. Both philosophers have defined the two concepts as basing on the aspects of selfhood as it anxiety originates within the inner consciousness of an individual. On the other hand, the two concepts differ on how it is acquired and applied. For individuality, individuality is gained by creating a sense of belief and is applicable in allowing individuals to adopt a personality that suits their inner belief, while authenticity is acquired by picking pre-existing elements from people who existed before. Authenticity determines whether an individual is accepted by ethics in the world.