Letter on Humanism

When thinking comes to an end by slipping out of its element it replaces this loss by procuring a validity for itself as technē, as an instrument of education and therefore as a classroom matter and later a cultural concern. By and by philosophy becomes a technique for explaining from highest causes. One no longer thinks; one occupies oneself with "philosophy." In competition with one another, such occupations publicly offer themselves as "-isms" and try to offer more than the others. The dominance of such terms is not accidental. It rests above all in the modern age upon the peculiar dictatorship of the public realm. However, so-called "private existence" is not really essential, that is to say free, human being. It simply insists on negating the public realm. It remains an offshoot that depends upon the public and nourishes itself by a mere withdrawal from it. Hence it testifies, against its own will, to its subservience to the public realm. But because it stems from the dominance of subjectivity the public realm itself is the metaphysically conditioned establishment and authorization of the openness of individual beings in their unconditional objectification. Language thereby falls into the service of expediting communication along routes where objectification—the uniform accessibility of everything to everyone—branches out and disregards all limits. In this way language comes under the dictatorship of the public realm, which decides in advance what is intelligible and what must be rejected as unintelligible. What is said in Being and Time (1927), sections 27 and 35, about the "they" in no way means to furnish an incidental contribution to sociology.* Just as little does the "they"

* The preparatory fundamental analysis of Dasein tries to define concrete structures of human being in its predominant state, "average everydayness." For the most part Dasein is absorbed in the public realm (die Offentlichkeit), which dictates the range of possibilities that shall obtain for it in all dimensions of its life: "We enjoy ourselves and take our pleasures as they do; we read, see, and judge works of literature and art as they do; but we also shrink back in revulsion from the 'masses' of men just as they do; and are 'scandalized' by what they find shocking" (Sein and Zeit, pp. 126-27). Heidegger argues that the public realm—the neutral, impersonal "they"—tends to level off genuine possibilities and force individuals to keep their distance from one another and from themselves. It holds Dasein in subservience and hinders knowledge of the self and the world. It allows the life-and-death issues of existence proper to dissolve in "chatter," which is "the possibility of understanding everything without prior dedication to, and appropriation of, the matter at stake" (Sein and Zeit, p. 169). (All references to Being and Time in this essay and throughout the book cite the pagination of the German edition.)—Ed.