The ethical implications of listening for being-with-others: A critique of Martin Heidegger

Somaieh Emamjomeh, Purdue University


The following dissertation offers a phenomenological analysis of listening for the purpose of arguing that being ethical is an ontological feature of being human. This work builds on Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time, in which Heidegger determines the necessary categories (“existentials”) of human existence and provides an interpretation of their temporal structure. Through an explication of the existential and temporal constitution of listening to others, I demonstrate that listening is also a necessary category of human existence, and that authentic listening brings one into an ethical relation with another person. To be sure, although authentic listening does not constitute a theory of ethics, authentic listening qualifies as a necessary but not sufficient condition for any ethical theory. The reason is that the ethical relation one enters upon listening authentically to the other is an intrinsic and not a contingent dimension of human sociality. That is to say, being ethical is a feature of human ontology. Given that Heidegger excludes ethical considerations from ontological investigations, the subsequent account of listening is at once an extension and a critique of Martin Heidegger’s philosophy. The first chapter introduces the analysis of listening within the context of criticisms leveled against Heidegger for his involvements in National Socialism and the lack of ethics in his philosophy. The point of situating an investigation of listening within this critique is to convey the urgency of working with Heidegger in such a way that does not remain blind to his moral failings, as well as to motivate a rehabilitation of his philosophy. Focusing on Heidegger’s analysis of being-with-others, I detect the hidden-potential for an ethical response to other, a hidden potential that accounts not only for human sociality, but also the possibility of ethical co-existence. Chapters 2 – 3 build the theoretical framework used to explicate listening: the analysis of human existence (“Dasein-analytic”) in Being and Time. In Chapter 2, I lay out in broad strokes some of the important tenets of Heidegger’s Dasein-analytic: to wit, the existential structures of Worldhood, everyday being-with-others, and care as the unifying theme of human existence. Chapter 3 focuses on the disclosure of Dasein’s world through the structures of understanding, language, and listening. This chapter also develops a preliminary sketch of authentic and inauthentic listening based on several key works: Being and Time, the History of the Concept of Time, and a lecture entitled “Logos.” Heidegger understands authentic listening primarily as hearing the call of conscience which provokes Dasein to become responsible for its existence, and inauthentic listening as losing oneself in “idle chatter.” Chapter 4 comprises the critical aspect of my dissertation by examining the ethical efficacy of Heidegger's concept of authenticity. The first section works out Heidegger’s notion of authentic being-with-others. The second section essentially asks the question of whether or not it is possible to derive an account of ethics based on Being and Time alone, even if supplemented with other works by Heidegger. My claim is that it is not possible because there are no sufficiently ethical criteria in Being and Time. The closest one gets to a normative criterion is to construe authenticity as a moral imperative. This is a mistaken move, however, since it is not obvious that choosing one’s ownmost possibilities necessarily leads to ethical relations with others. I offer a reading of Francisco Goya’s Cronus Devouring One of his Children as a counter-example to the idea that authentic existence necessarily leads to an ethical one. In chapter 5, I present a novel analysis of listening in three phases: a description of listening using real (“ontic”) scenarios, an ontological description of listening, and finally an ethical description of listening. In the ethical description of listening, I propose that some of the features that are necessary for authentic listening to others are also central to ethical relations to others: namely, respect and care for others. Authentic listening exhibits respect for others to the extent that one must limit their ego-self in order to allow the other to speak for herself, and respects the alterity of the other’s discourse. Authentic listening can also have a transformative effect by bringing a listener to care and be responsible for the other’s existence. In support of this claim, I refer to the German film The Lives of Others and works in trauma studies. The final chapter concludes the project by summarizing my findings and then looks forward to the application of my interpretation of listening to the analysis of “intentional/deliberate silences,” e.g. comfortable silence, estranged silence, secretive silence, and so on.




McBride, Purdue University.

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