Thinking Being Human: Notes on Heidegger’s “Letter on Humanism”

Be Late.

Heidegger begins his “Letter on Humanism” by noting that our notion of action is too often narrowly thought in terms of cause and effect. Consequently, the human being is conceived as only an acting agent.  By action or activity one simply means the power to cause an effect—i.e., a causality.  As such, the value we attach to any being or activity is construed only in terms of utility, that is to say, what an act does or can do for a particular end or purpose.  Action in this  sense is merely a means toward the actualization of mechanical, utilitarian ends.  According to Heidegger, we are in the habit of thinking of action within the heteronomy of means-ends, a habit whose genealogy can be traced in the evolution of the idea of making-actual from ενεργεια (energeia) to actualitas to Wirklichkeit, and so forth.  One recalls here Hegel’s famous dictum:…

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