The Method of Being and Time – Lecture 5

March 20, 2013

If the Being of Dasein is the clue for Heidegger, at this stage, for the general meaning of being, then what method can give us access to being? The problem is that although we all exist in a pre-ontological, pre-theoretical or pre-philosophical understanding of being, this understanding is not something that we have explicitly:

Ontically Dasein is not only close to us – even that which is closest: we are it each of us. In spite of this, or rather for just this reason, it is ontologically that which is furthest away [BT 15].

Precisely because this average understanding of being is not available to us, we cannot use it straight away as the way into the question. It is precisely this understanding that needs to be interrogated and we need to find a way in which to investigate it. This is not an epistemological problem, whereby we have to find access to some object that lies external to us, because we already exist in this understanding. Our problem, therefore, is not like Descartes’ as to how we can prove whether world already exists or not, because even before we ask this question we already exist in the understanding of our being and always so exist. This is why access to this everyday understanding cannot be by some kind of arbitrary idea of being. Rather we have to follow the meaning of this everydayness itself. Nonetheless the same problem remains. How are to gain access to it, when it is that which is ontologically furthest away from us? To some extent Heidegger answers this question by saying that even in this understanding there is something that is made visible to us and that is every understanding of being is temporally formed or structured:

Whenever Dasein tacitly understands itself and interprets something like Being, it does so with time as its standpoint. Time must be brought to light – and genuinely conceived – as the horizon for all understanding of Being and for any way of interpreting it [BT 18]

But even this notion that time is the ultimate horizon of the understanding of being is still something that is not clear to us unless we have worked through the history of philosophy as such. This is because history is not something that lies outside of Dasein’s being, but expresses the very way that Dasein is. Thus we never come to any investigation empty handed, but already have preconceived ideas about what is true or false. The idea of presuppositionless beginning is itself a presupposition that needs to be investigated. Our inability to ask the question of being itself, as we have seen, has it source in our history, but equally if we are going to attempt to retrieve this question by analysing our average understanding of being, then we will have to be aware that this history will affect our way of understanding. Indeed it might be this history that stands in the way of grasping our everyday understanding of being. We have already seen this to be the case in the opening pages of Being and Time.

When tradition thus becomes master, it does so in such a way that what it ‘transmits’ is made so inaccessible, proximally and for the most part, that it rather becomes concealed [BT 21].

This does not mean that we reject our own history, but we have to free up possibilities of questioning so as to get back to object in question, in the case the everydayness of Dasein, that we are interrogating so as to find out about the meaning of being. It is Heidegger’s thesis, as we shall see, that Western philosophy since Plato has overlooked this everydayness, or interpreted it as something not worthy of philosophical attention, in its fascination with the theoretical relation to things. Thus it has been the being of things, rather than Dasein’s being that has determined the general concept of being in the West. But such a concept, as we have seen, only leads to banal, meaningless and sterile concept of being, as the mere empty fact that everything exists. To get back to phenomenon of everydayness requires what Heidegger calls a ‘destruction’ of the Western tradition of philosophy. This must be understood in a positive way not as a dismantling of the tradition for its own sake, but to find within this tradition the possibility of a genuine interrogation of everydayness:

If the question of being is to have its own history made transparent, then this hardened tradition must be loosened up, and the concealments, which it has brought about must be dissolved. We understand task as one in which by taking the question of Being as our clue, we are destroy the traditional content of ancient ontology until we arrive at those primordial experiences in which we achieved our first ways of determining the nature of Being – the ways which have guided us ever since [BT 22].

This does not mean getting rid of tradition, but finding that which in the tradition helps us to gain a better understanding of being. Thus the positive sense of tradition, with the clue given to us by our preliminary description of the everyday understanding of being, is to see in what way traditional ontology has treated the theme of time. In this case, despite all the ways that he also concealed this problem, the most important philosopher for Heidegger is Kant, who made time central to The Critique of Pure Reason. Prior to Kant, the most fundamental notion of time in Greek philosophy is the present and the most important philosopher here is Aristotle. This understanding of being in terms of the present also comes out the everyday understanding of being, even though it is now a block on our understanding of it. It is only in the destruction of this tradition that the everyday understanding of being can be revealed, but this destruction of the tradition is also its renewal, since the possibility of making the everyday understanding of being visible is something that this tradition itself grants. For it’s only from the past that we can find resources to engage the present by opening it out to future possibilities that remain hidden there.

If hermeneutics somehow helps to circumvent the tradition that has prevented us from asking the question of the meaning of being, but also, to some extent, if we keep this question in mind, can also help us to renew this question, then we are still left with the problem of a positive method. How are we to actually investigate the Being we have discovered initially by dismantling the tradition that has concealed it? ‘The task of ontology is to explain,’ Heidegger writes, ‘Being itself and to make the Being of entities stand out in full relief’ [BT 27]. But how are we to make Being ‘stand out’? The answer to this question, for Heidegger, is phenomenology. This is because the basic tenant of phenomenology is to describe beings as they manifest themselves. ‘The term “phenomenology”’, Heidegger explains, ‘expresses a maxim which can be formulated as “To the things themselves”’ [BT 27-8].

Rather enigmatically, however, rather than go back to Husserl, the inventor of the phenomenological method, and Heidegger’s teacher, Heidegger explains phenomenology through its Greek etymology. The word ‘phenomenology’, he explains, is made of the two Greek words φαινόμενον (phainomenon) and λόγος (logos). Therefore, to understand the true significance of this word, we need to go back true meaning of the Greek. Why would Heidegger think that investigating the Greek meaning of words would help us to formulate the true significance of phenomenology? This is because, for Heidegger, the Greeks, at least before Plato and Aristotle, still had an understanding of the question of the meaning of being that had not been distorted by the tradition (though paradoxically, of course, they are the originators of this tradition), and thus if we ourselves are going to be able to ask this question again, let alone answer it, we shall need to retrieve this tradition. We again can see the connection between Heidegger’s hermeneutical and phenomenological method:

The meaning of the Greek word φαινόμενον is as follows:

Phenomenon signifies that which shows itself in itself, the manifest. Accordingly the phainomena or ‘phenomena’ are the totality of what lies in the light of day or can be brought to light [BT 28]

Heidegger makes it clear that we should not confuse this notion of phenomenon with appearance, for an appearance suggests that there is something behind what appears, which itself is not an appearance, just as symptom is an appearance of an underlying disease, which is itself not visible [BT 28]. Rather, appearance is derivative of the more fundamental notion of phenomenon as a ‘self-showing’, even if what is most important, the meaning of being is hidden in this showing.[1] On the other side, the meaning of λόγος is: ‘discourse’ means […] to make manifest what one is talking about in one’s discourse [BT 32]. Again, just as with the word φαινόμενον, we have to retrieve its authentic Greek meaning, as opposed to its continual re-interpretation through the tradition. λόγος does not originally mean, for Heidegger, some kind of logical or conceptual judgement, but rather it means ‘letting something be seen’ [BT 32]. The true significance of the work ‘phenomenology’ is, therefore, a combination of the original sense of these Greek words:

Thus ‘phenomenology’ means […] to let that which shows itself be seen from itself in the very way in which it shows itself from itself […]. But here we are expressing nothing else than the maxim formulated above: ‘To the things themselves!’[BT 34].

This notion of directly grasping something should not be confused with naivety, for the way in which things conceal themselves belongs to their very essence as phenomenon. The task is to bring this concealment to presence rather than simply annul it. In relation to the particular object Dasein, phenomenology is to be understood as hermeneutics. This is not just because the investigation is historical, as described above, but that the phenomenological investigation is interpretative. This we return to the start of our investigation. My being is what is closest to me, but at the same time, in terms of my understanding, it what is furthest away. What makes it difficult to understand it is that the tradition handed down to me distorts my experience of being. At least now, however, I have a method, phenomenology, which allows me to being to approach it as its shows itself in my experience of my self, the world and other people, rather than how I think I ought to interpret it through metaphysics and the history of philosophy. The rest of Being and Time, will be Heidegger’s attempt to do precisely that, to describe Dasein’s being as it shows itself, and in so doing he will turn around the whole course of Western philosophy.


[1] Heidegger’s long discussion here of the various meanings of appearance, and why they are derivative of the original meaning of phenomenon, is aimed at neo-Kantians.

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The Question of Being – Lecture 4

March 15, 2013

Being and Time opens with a quotation from the Sophist:

For manifestly you have long been aware of what you mean when you use the expression ‘being’. We, however, who used to think we understood it, have now become perplexed [Sophist 244a].

We must understand this to mean that we cannot gain access to the question of the meaning of being unless we are perplexed. If we think that we know what the answer to the question is, then the route will be bared to us. Yet Heidegger adds that our situation is even worse that the stranger of the Sophist. For we are not only not perplexed about the question of being, but we think that it is not even a question worth asking, for everyone knows what the word ‘being’ means Surely things just are? What is philosophically interesting about that? What can we say about this being at all? Isn’t it a nonsensical question?

And yet the more we think about this word are we really sure that we know what it means? What does it mean for something to be? Do all things, trees, universes and humans ‘be’ in the same way? Why has it come about that the question of meaning is no longer a serious philosophical question? The answer to this, Heidegger would argue, must come from the history of philosophy. He tells us that there are three definitions of being, which appear mutually exclusive, and yet explain our indifference to renewing the question of being:

  1. That being is the most general concept
  2. That the concept of being is indefinable
  3. That the meaning of being is obvious.

That the meaning of being is most general comes from Greek metaphysics. It has its most classical form in Aristotle’s ontology. Aristotle divides reality into individuals and species. Thus Gary is an individual and he belongs to the species ‘human being’. Species themselves belong to different genera. Human beings belong to the genus animal. The generality of being, however, is not the same as the generality of genera. We cannot define it through a single meaning. There are different ways in which things are. Aristotle’s solution to this problem, in Metaphysics book 4, is to argue that the generality of being is to be thought through analogy. Although we speak of being in different ways, such that we speak of privations, attributes or qualities, these different meanings nonetheless have an analogous sense in that they all relate to the meaning of being as substance. Thus I can say of something that it is potentially or actual, or that it is relative to another being, or that it its being is accidental, or that it is true. These different ways of talking about being in general all have their focal point in the meaning of being as substance. Thus, it is substance that is accidental, potential or actual, true, relative and so on. The example that Aristotle gives is that of the word ‘healthy’ (1103b35) in which the word is meant in different ways, but each different meaning goes back to a ‘core’ meaning of the word ‘healthy’. Something can be healthy because it preserves health, or because it produces, indicates or possesses it, for example.[1]

Heidegger’s response to Aristotle’s treatment is both positive and negative. Positive in the sense that is opens the question of the meaning of Being in general, but negative in that Aristotle’s answer leaves everything as much in the dark as before. ‘Being is the most universal concept,’ Heidegger writes, ‘this cannot mean that it is the one which is the clearest or that it needs no further discussion. It is rather the darkest of all’ [BT 23]. At this stage, we do not know what is incorrect about Aristotle’s definition of being, and why it cannot be the route into the meaning of being in general. We shall have to wait for the answer later in the text.

The very generality of the meaning of being would lead some thinkers, and Heidegger uses the example of Pascal [BT 23], to say that being is indefinable. We can say what Gary is because he belongs to a species, and belonging to a species is part of what it means to be able to give a definition of something, but because being in general does not belong to a species, we can say nothing about it. We cannot even say that being is, for there are only individual beings that are. Despite these philosophical difficulties in defining being, some would even argue the opposite that that the meaning of being is obvious since we make use of the expression in our everyday discourse. Thus, it is not a serious philosophical topic at all, but only a linguistic usage that everyone knows about.  Thus analytic philosophy will talk about existence as an ‘existential quantifier’ and denote it with a special logical symbol, ∃, which just means ‘there exists something’.[2] Yet this very obviousness of the word ‘being’ will be a clue for Heidegger. For it means, to some extent, that we all already have a grasp of the meaning of being, even though we might not at first be able to make clear this understanding to ourselves.

Even though these definitions of being that come from out of our philosophical traditions have made the question of being a non-question, Heidegger will say that each of them, if we look at them closely, offer us a positive way into the question. In Aristotle, being is seen as something different from individual beings, and is this difference that will force Pascal to say that being is indefinable. The obviousness of the word, however, shows that all of us live in an understanding of being, even though we might not be able to bring into to philosophical clarity. It is the last clue, which will be for Heidegger, the way into the question, but before he sets off in this direction he first of all will ask what is questioning itself, and will this help us retrieve the meaning of being?

Heidegger divides the structure of questioning into four parts:

  1. Das Suchen – seeking
  2. Das Gefragtes – that which is asked about
  3. Das Befragtes – that which is interrogated
  4. Das Erfragte – that which is to be found out by asking

We can apply each of these parts to the question of being. What we are seeking after is the meaning of being. Every seeking, Heidegger, argues, is not merely a groping in the dark. To be able to seek something means that the way to the something that one seeks must already be given in advance in some way. If one did know have any experience, in some sense, of what one was seeking, then one could not even begin to search for it. In relation to the meaning of Being, we must already to some extent ‘move in an understanding of being’ otherwise we would not even know what the question means, even though we might not be able to give a clear answer to the question. In this questioning, that which is asked about (Das Gefragtes) is the meaning of Being and that which is interrogated, so as to find out the meaning of Being, is a being (Das Befragtes). Beings are everything that we speak about and intend, that are there in reality, so to speak and present to us in some way or another.

If the only way into the question of being is through the beings surrounding is, why is it not the discourses that already investigate these beings that can answer this question for us? These discourses are what we know as science.[3] Is it not the sciences which tell us what things are in their physical being, history in their historical being, and so on? Heidegger here, however, (and he follows Husserl in this regard and before him, Aristotle) would make a distinction between regional and general ontology. Even though each science investigates the specific nature of certain group of beings, they nonetheless are dependent on the general distinction between beings and Being. This distinction is not a scientific question, and therefore is not open to any kind of scientific investigation. The former, in Heidegger’s terminology, is ontical, and the latter, ontological. Science itself already exists within an understanding of being that it takes for granted, but without which it would not be able to function.[4] This understanding of being therefore has an ontological priority. Ontology, however, tells us nothing about the specific nature of any being. We should not confuse an ontological priority with an ontical one. Philosophy can no more tell us about the sub-atomic structure of atoms than common sense. This requires an ontical investigation.

The ontological difference, however, between beings and being does tell us that there is one being that has an ontical priority over all other beings, and that being is ourselves, for it is we who ask about other beings, and not beings that ask about us. But we ask about other beings, because our own being is a question for us. Our being is question for us in the sense that our existence is something that we seek to understand. And if we did not seek to understand our existence and our world, then something like a scientific investigation would not be possible. We inquire about other beings, but we ask about our own being. What is ontical distinctive about human beings (which Heidegger calls Dasein) is that ‘it is ontological’:

Dasein is an entity which does not just occur among other entities. Rather it is ontically distinguished by the fact that, in its very Being, that Being is an issue for it […]. Understanding of Being is itself a defining characteristic of Dasein’s Being. Dasein is ontically distinctive in that it is ontological [BT 12].

But how does Dasein understand its own being? It grasps its being as existence. Existence is not merely the fact of just being there, when we say that a table or a chair ‘is’ or ‘exists’; rather existence should be understood in terms of possibilities. I understand myself in terms of possibilities that I choose or do not choose: ‘to be or not to be’ to quote a famous phrase from Hamlet. How I particularly understand myself though the possibilities that are offered me, Heidegger calls existentialls (shall I read Being and Time, shall I come to the lecture, shall I take my study of philosophy seriously, shall I become a teacher, mother, and so on). The question of existence is therefore not an abstract philosophical question, but something that all of us face or avoid facing. The understanding of the structure of existence in general, however, Heidegger calls existential:

The question of existence never gets straightened out except through existing itself. The understanding of oneself which leads along this way we call existentiell. The question of existence is one of Dasein’s ontical affairs. This does not require that the ontological structure of existence should be theoretical transparent […]. The context of such structures we call existentiality. Its analytic has the character of an understanding which is not existentiell, but rather existential [BT 12].

Dasein understands itself in terms of its own being as existence (not what it is, but how it is). This is the reason for its priority, for no other being has its own being as question for itself. If we go back to Heidegger’s own division of questioning into separate elements, then Dasein is that which is interrogated in order to find out what is meant by the word being. We have thus managed to leave behind the empty sterility of the definition of being as a mere generality, or something indefinable or even something obvious that does not need to be questioned.

The description of Dasein’s existence Heidegger calls the ‘analytic of Dasein’ and it is first division of the first part of Being and Time. We should remember that it is only the preparatory opening onto the general question of being for Heidegger. It should also be noted that Heidegger never wrote the final division of the first part, where he might have advanced to the general question of Being, and nor did he write the second part of Being and Time, which would have been a deconstruction of Western ontology through this revived ontology that has its roots in the existence of Dasein. Thus Being and Time never even gets to the question of being itself, let alone gives us an answer to the question ‘What is being?’ This is because Heidegger’s thought had already moved on before he had time to complete this book. He saw being no longer in terms of the being of Dasein, but language. This would, however, require another lecture series to investigate.

At the end of this section, Heidegger summaries the threefold priority of Dasein:

The first priority if an ontical one: Dasein is an entity whose Being has the determinate character of existence. The second priority is an ontological one: Dasein is in itself ‘ontological’, because existence is thus determinative for it. But with equally primordiality Dasein also possesses – as constitutive for its understanding of existence – an understanding of the Being of all entities of a character other than its own. Dasein, therefore as a third priority as providing the ontic-ontological condition for the possibility of any ontology [BT 13].

What does Heidegger mean by these three priorities of Dasein? First of all he means that Dasein is different from any being in terms of its own existence. It is true to say that other things exist. Stones, plants and animals do exist. Yet Dasein’s existence is not the same as theirs. Stones and plants exist simply in the sense of being present, and whereas we might think that animals have a more complicated existence than stones and plants, nonetheless their existence is constrained by a behaviour that has not changed (unless of course it has been changed by human beings, who are precisely the question we are faced with). Human existence, on the other hand, is a question of being of oneself, and even if physiology and biology might constrain this (one cannot chose to fly without some kind of machine), one still nonetheless chooses oneself through these constraints, and every culture and person must do so. But the very ontical distinctiveness of human being, that is different from any other being, means that it also ontologically distinctive. Just because it stands towards its existence as something that matters to it, an understanding of being belongs necessarily to it. As Mulhall describes it, ‘an understanding of its own Being is itself a definite characteristic of Dasein’s Being.’(1996, p.17) From both these priorities, lies the condition for the third. Since it is only Dasein whose being is issue for it, and therefore it already exists in an understanding of being, the being of every other entity, or being that exists, such as stones, plants, and animals, can only be comprehended through its being. This does not mean that Dasein creates or produces these beings, and that without them they would literally cease to exist, but their ‘intelligibility’, to use Dreyfus’ expression from the lectures, is wholly dependent on the understanding of Being of Dasein (Dreyfus n.d.). It is only because Dasein understands itself, that plants, stones and animals can be understood. We can see now why the Being of Dasein is the clue to the meaning of being, and that the analytic of Dasein is the basis of ‘fundamental ontology’.

Works Cited

Dreyfus, H.L., Heidegger by Hubert L. Dreyfus – Free Podcast Download. Learn Out Loud. Available at: http://www.learnoutloud.com/Podcast-Directory/Philosophy/Philosophers/Heidegger-Podcast/24272 [Accessed January 26, 2012].

Hanley, C., 2000. Being and God in Aristotle and Heidegger : the Role of Method in Thinking the Infinite, Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Hausman, A., Kahane, H. & Tidman, P., 2010. Logic and philosophy : a modern introduction, Australia; Boston, MA: Thomson Wadsworth/Cengage learning.

Kuhn, T.S., 2012. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Mulhall, S., 1996. Heidegger and “Being and Time”, London; New York: Routledge.


[1] For a good explanation of analogy in Aristotle and its See C. Hanley, ‘The Science of First Principles and Grounds’ in Being and God in Aristotle and Heidegger (2000, p.47).

[2] ‘The existential quantifier (∃x) is used to assert that some entities (at least one) have a given property. Thus to symbolise the sentence “Something is heavy” or the sentence “At least one thing is heavy,” start with the sentence form Hx and prefix an existential quantifier to it. The result is the sentence (∃x)Hx, read “for some x, x is heavy,” or “There is an x such that x is heavy,” or just “Some x is heavy.”’  (Hausman et al. 2010, p.177)

[3] ‘Science’ has a much broader meaning in the context in which Heidegger uses it. It includes not just what we think as science, such as biology and physics, but also what we would call the ‘humanities’, history and literature, for example. Science means here every kind of investigation that researches certain kinds of beings, such that chemistry studies the elements, physics matter and nature, and literature, novels and poetry, for example. ‘Elements’, ‘matter’, ‘nature’, ‘novels’ and ‘poetry’ are types of beings.

[4] We need to make it clear here that Heidegger is not saying that science is not ontological, but to function normally it has to keep its ontological presuppositions in the background or its daily tasks would never begin. When science is in crisis, then this ontological presuppositions (what is ‘matter’, what is a ‘book’) might come to the foreground. Then a science might become ontological, but it if is ever going to answer these questions in a fundamental way, it would also have to become philosophical. Heidegger’s distinction between ontic and ontological science, is very similar to Kuhn’s between normal and revolutionary science, though these is no evidence that the latter read the former (Kuhn 2012).


Work and Death – Lecture 8

March 10, 2013

The paradox of work is that it both sustains my life and undermines it. Without work, I would forever be at the mercy of the elements, which, though they sustain my life, can also take it away from me. Work is the attempt to tame the forces of nature. To make them work for me rather than I for them. Yet what is at the heart of work is alienation. For as soon as I produce something then it no longer belongs to me. It enters the world of commerce and economy and rather than finding myself in work I am absent from the work that I produce. It has its value in what others make of it. ‘The labour which brings being into our possession,’ Levinas writes, ‘ipso facto relinquishes it, is in the very sovereignty of its powers  unceremoniously delivered over to the Other’ [TI 227]. Work is therefore for very opposite of speech, where the speakers are present in the words that they speak and attest to their own sincerity.

Work too is the basis of history. History is the history of works and nothing else. The ruins of civilisations are testimony to the desire to hold onto time and to resist the elemental, like the ruins that one might stumble across in a jungle or in the desert. But such a history is quite literally a dead history, for it is history of those who are no longer alive. History is written by those who have survived the disaster and not its victims, who are only the countless names or numbers that have been written in the record.

Historiography recounts the way the survivors appropriate the works of dead wills to themselves; it rests on the  usurpation carried out by the conquerors, that is, by the survivors; it recounts enslavement, forgetting the life that  struggles against slavery. [TI 228]

The self is therefore dispossessed by the very work in which it seeks to possess the world. This is the paradox of the work and the true lesson of the ruined monuments. The more I seek to make this world mine through labour, economy and commerce the more the world is taken from my grasp. The only way to resist the fate of victims of history is one’s own interiority that has no history. Such an interiority, however, is not the result of a heroic individualism railing against its fate, but is produced in the responsibility to the other. It is the demand of the other who calls me to be good that in the end preserves the self from its historical fate. A subjectivity outside of history is therefore defined by Levinas as ‘apology’. My existence is only justified in the demand of justice that the other places upon me. My identity is not nominative but accusative.

Yet is it possible to defeat death that history tells me is my fate and everyone else’s? If we no longer believe in an eternal life what other possibility is there in the end but my own annihilation? Death, however, is never just a relation to impersonal forces, but to someone. Death comes to me from an other’s hand or I am preserved from death by the aid of another. Levinas has in mind here the analysis of ‘being-towards-death’ of Heidegger, where I face the possibility of my nothingness resolutely and with courage. What matters to me is my own being and if I do relate to others, then it is only for the sake of this rather than for them. Even if the time of my death is a mystery to me, this does not mean that my life is defined in terms of its power. Life is not concerned with death, rather it is the postponement of its inevitability. Death is not the possibility of my impossibility through which I define my own authenticity. It is, rather, the possibility of my impossibility. It is not the fear of nothingness that assails me, but the threat of violence. What threatens me is the bullet or illness, and not some abstract nothingness at the heart of my being. This is why I attempt through living to postpone death.

Such a postponement, however, should not be interpreted as heroic. On the contrary, the very analysis of work shows that I cannot defeat death. I do not defeat death, but rather suffer it. That is, I remain at a distance from it. Even in the instant of my death, I feel that there is still time, as though the interval between my existence and death’s coming were never to be crossed. The real ordeal is not death but suffering which is the bearing of the violence of the threat of death that comes from the outside. Such an ordeal Levinas calls patience. Patience is the opposite of work that thinks it can defeat death by its monuments but discovers that they have an existence despite and outside of the self that seeks to preserve itself in them. When the tomb is opened it is empty.

If patience and apology are the testimony to an interior life that is not subsumed in history, then they do not have their origin in a self that stands outside reason and necessity. The singularity of the self is only found in the demand that others place upon it. I bear death for the other, just as I am apologetic for them. The I, then, is only an I because of its responsibility and not despite it. This responsibility is not the result of abstract reason. Responsibility does not have its source in universality, where the self would have no uniqueness, but in the face of the other that demands justice from me. It is not history that judges me, because in history we are all equivalent. It is the face of the other that does so. Such a judgement is the very opposite of the annihilation of the self that we discover in the death and in the works that hope to defeat it. In the judgement of the other the self is preserved. The judgement of history is the absence of the will that is judged, which is why it is only present in the third person and not the second. Not the direct discourse of speech but the indirect discourse of writing. The word that is added to the direct speech, the word that attends the words spoken is not a word that would be of any significance to historical writing. It is the speech of the subject as an apology in front of the demand of the other. Only in this way do I not disappear in a language that judges me.

This means that the I who enjoys the world is only confirmed in the demand of the other and not in work and history. It is the response to the demand of the other that is the true source of the individuality of the self, which is neither at the mercy of the elements nor disappears in the anonymity of its ruined monuments. The self is there an ‘election’. It is called to be responsible in the face of the suffering of the others. Called to be itself. To be itself, however is not to be true to itself, but to be true to the other. It is not a truth of existence, but a truth of ethics. The final restoration of the subject is therefore in apology. I am responsible for the other, and it is this that marks my  singularity and unicity, and not being towards death as Heidegger argues. As Levinas writes, ‘To be an I and not only an incarnation of a reason is precisely to be capable of seeing the offence of the offended, or the  face [TI 247].