The tension between truth and untruth in Heidegger (SZ period)

Obviousness is a special case of common sense perverting disclosive character and yet it simulates real truth through its certainty and clarity; herein lies Heidegger’s reason for doubting obviousness.

Being-certain is essential to Dasein; it is the reason why we orient ourselves to truth, for truth too is about being certain. So how do we have two senses of truth – the unconcealed and the obvious? And how do these interrelate, beyond sharing the appearance of the key characteristics of certainty and clarity?

Certainty is based on common sense. But what is obvious, i.e. based on common sense, perverts the real truth because it holds something up as open when the thing is still concealed. The consequences of this ‘improper certainty’ are two fold: both the being of that about which Dasein is certain, and Dasein’s own being, are covered up.

In contrast, proper certainty is based on convictions. Conviction in Heidegger’s sense is a holding of oneself in truth or maintaining of Dasein in truth. We comport ourselves to the unconcealment of real truth.

Das Man uses Dasein as a disguise. Thus, when we ask ‘who speaks out in certainty’, the They answers through the mouth of Dasein. This is further evidence of the improper certainty of obviousness, the perversion of unconcealment to mere appearance, or semblance of a coming into the light. In Heidegger’s words, a disguise is “something which has been disclosed [which] is still visible, but as a semblance”.

Only in the mode of genuine authenticity can Dasein fully lay claim to being in the truth, holding oneself in the truth. This is because genuine authenticity renders everything transparent, so Dasein cannot be misled. That is not to say that the threats to truth posed by das Man are warded off, but Dasein now has the power to combat them, not only for itself but also for others as ‘conscience’.

Genuine inauthenticity, on the other hand, is characterised by an indifference towards the substance of truth. Inauthentic Dasein is just ‘going through the motions’, putting on a display of being truth seeking, but not doing it for itself. Other adjectives relevant to this mode of being might be misappropriation and disownment.

When we cash out ‘genuineness’, we are faced with four types of character in two modes of being. Genuineness is appropriation, a concern with truth, and can be divided into proper and improper modes of being. The proper mode is that of the philosopher, whilst the improper mode is the philodoxer. Non-genuineness is misappropriation, unconcern with truth, and can be further divided into non-genuine proper and non-genuine improper. Again, the former is the mode of the pseudo-philosopher whilst the latter is the mde of the pseudo-philodoxer. Finally, genuineness is completed by authenticity, whilst non-genuineness is completed by inauthenticity, in the manner described above.

The philodoxer and the pseudo-philosopher are united by their orientation toward the public realm, although they inhabit two sides of genuineness. The philodoxer fails to make distinctions and as such is often prone to being misled by the pseudo-philosopher, who simulates truth claims by putting on the appearance of authenticity. Meanwhile, the pseudo-philodoxer simulates allegiance to untruth through the disguise of das Man. The philosopher might be said to be addressing his claims to the pseudo-philodoxer for this reason, as the latter has a chance at being liberated since he was once oriented toward truth. The relation between the philosopher and pseudo-philodoxer is also characterised by absence – both are excluded from the public realm, neither can converge on common ground, and both therefore exist in solitariness.

Having got to grips with the four possible modes of being oriented toward truth, we can ask ourselves where obviousness might fit in. As we have said, truth is in the mode of genuine authenticity, because this is the only mode devoid of semblance. It is the philosopher alone who can lay claim to truths.

Obviousness, linked to common sense, would fit within the public realm. It cannot be said to be oriented toward truth because it obstructs truth, as we have seen above. Thus, obviousness gives rise to pseudo-truths. But it nonetheless shares a structural likeness with genuine inauthenticity, the mode of the philodoxer. One explanation for the undecideability of obviousness is that it reveals a tension in Dasein between being in truth and untruth simultaneously. Perhaps it is the fate of Dasein that this tension cannot be adequately resolved.

So what do we do? Hopefully this analysis has shown us that, whilst we can be certain in a pragmatic sense – it helps us to get on in the everyday course of our existence in the world particularly in our interactions with others – it is unwise to use that certainty to buttress a more essential view of truth itself.

This article was useful in analysing obviousness within Heidegger’s earlier thought.