How do we listen to our hearts? What kinds of insights or aid is required to be authentic? How do we embrace the daily grind? The monotony of daily living without regrets, managing our despair and other general ailments?
Existentialist Martin Heidegger’s reply is that everyone comes equipped with an existential conscience that calls to them to live authentically. This conscience turns out to be you talking to yourself about yourself.
This conscience is you trying to shake the part of you lost in the crowd, yourself out of its conformity. When you heed the call of your conscience, you take a necessary step toward embracing yourself and living authentically.
Your existential conscience shakes you from the inauthentic life of the crowd by reminding you of your guilt, which in turn, points out to you your responsibility for taking ownership of what you are as a self or as a being. What this means is that your conscience wants you to own up to the fact that as an existing, choosing, self-determining being, you’re incomplete in some key ways.
The possibilities available to you for self-definition aren’t limitless; in fact, the options you have are structured by the historical and cultural world you’re born into and you can’t simply make all the possibilities available to you, it’s an inescapable reality.
“Think of the call of conscience like a phone call. On one end, you have the person dialling (the caller). That’s you. But it’s the you who’s always in there, in your life, always capable of authenticity (no matter what you do, unless you magically turn into a stone or an animal, this part of yourself is always present). That self always capable of authenticity is the caller. We call it the “You-Self.””-Greg Gale
The You-Self (person you want to be) is dialling up the you who is presently lost in the crowd. It must: Heidegger says the call can’t be addressed to the They-Self. The They-Self is the self of the everyday — the self within you that represents the voice of the crowd.
The They-Self is the everyone-self that has no identity of its own, the identity you take on when you become steeped in your conformist routines. The They-Self actually avoids the call. In fact, as Heidegger puts it, in the call of conscience the They-Self “gets passed over in this appeal.”
Just to be clear the existential conscience calls you to recognize your guilt — not moral guilt, the difference between the two is that Moral guilt typically acts as a spotlight of sorts. The former results from performing some shameful action, and the latter points to an absence of something in you.
When you steal or lie, moral guilt pains you because it makes apparent your lack of honesty. Moral guilt makes clear to you that you’re incomplete or limited in some important way.
In contrast, existential guilt doesn’t point to an action, but to you as a being. Moral guilt points to a lack in you that causes that action, but existential guilt points to an absence that’s a fundamental and an essential part of what you are as an existing being. The lack that moral guilt points to should be filled in; the lack that existential guilt points to should be embraced.
To be completely assured that your choice is right, you need to be able to step outside any context that may influence your way of looking at things. What you want is a timeless, “God’s-eye” view of your situation.
From this standpoint, you could objectively and dispassionately sort through the possible options and figure out which option is right. Heidegger’s point, however, this is when you truly see what you are, you see that this will never happen. You can never step outside your biased framework to see with assurance what’s objectively right or the one true choice.
Heidegger’s point here is that, as a self-defining being, you have to make choices within an historical and cultural framework — one that structures not only what’s possible for you, but also how you think about those possibilities.
What’s possible for you, in a given situation? Whatever is in your situation, you don’t share the same world or the same history as everyone else. You would inevitably respond differently even to the same situations.
Being a self-defining being daily requires recognising that one is “thrown” into a certain historical situation, a certain time period, a certain culture, and a context that makes a specific set of lives possible. Heidegger thinks that although this does function as a limit, because your power of self-definition is indeed limited, it isn’t something to complain about.
Instead, it’s the very ground of your freedom. To want to create yourself from the ground up should be seen as inauthentic, essentially obscuring and refusing to face up to the fact that your human existence is a situational one. All lives have a context in which they should be understood.
One as such makes a resolve to embrace their death and view the seriousness of one’s choice as joined together with one’s past, heritage, and selection of possibilities. This joining involving your past and future, birth and death is now expressed in the way you act in and see the present.
Your life as a whole is unified and self-driven; your present situation and your action make sense in a story that connects your past, your present and your future. This means you daily are an authentic individual. You have to keep it up and keep marching on. This is in a sense, who we are daily and anything else does mean we are living inauthentically.