Heidegger’s ‘mineness’ in comparison with Buddhism

by thrownintotheworld


This essay will attempt to explain and analyse Heidegger’s position on authentic and inauthentic being in his text Being and Time, whilst simultaneously critiquing his ideas of Dasein being characterised by its ‘mineness’. As I criticise Heidegger’s idea of ‘mineness’ throughout the essay, I will also compare and analyse it with the alternative idea that is the Buddhist viewpoint on ‘mineness’ or lack-thereof. Heidegger uses ambiguous terms that can be potentially challenging, so in order to get into the density of this essay, I will briefly explain some of his terms.

The term ‘mode of being’ is used by Heidegger in order to discern between different ways that one may see the world or act in the world (Raffoul 1995, p. 353). For example undifferentiated, authentic and inauthentic being can be described as different modes of being. Authenticity can be characterised by the being that acknowledges itself whilst encountering what is not hidden. Inauthenticity, on the other hand can be described as Dasein hiding its being from itself and being absorbed through ‘falling’ into the ‘they’, which subsequently means that inauthentic Dasein does not relate to its irreplaceable singular self in the way it should (Guignon 2004).  Finally, the undifferentiated mode-of-being is known to be neither authentic nor inauthentic because it is the initial encounter that being makes, meaning that there is no chance for an agenda (Mulhall 2005). This method of describing authenticity is different to the common understanding, which can make Heidegger more difficult to understand.

The distinction between authenticity and inauthenticity is significantly used in Being and Time because firstly it provides the opening on how life should be lived according to Heidegger through the initial expression of ‘anxiety’, which reveals to us being-in-the-world which leads us to the Heideggerian sense of ‘care’. ‘Care’ according to Heidegger is the manifestation of Dasein looking out towards the world because it of its ‘throwness’ on what is being-already-in (Käufer 2011). So in a sense Care is the Being of Dasein. This brings the Heideggerian idea of ‘mineness’ into context, because ‘mineness’ is what the Being of Dasein fundamentally grounds itself on.

When Heidegger speaks of ‘mineness’, what he means by that is that every human being has his or her own singularity that no one can take (Ilharco 2005). When this is first read we may get the impression that each Dasein is a unique individual in terms of what kind of person they are and how they act but what Heidegger is trying to get across is that not that each Dasein is unique characteristically speaking but unique in the sense that each Dasein is someone who can not be replaced simply because of the fact that there is no one who can be born for you, or one who can die in your place. “Any Dasein whatsoever is characterised by its ‘mineness’” (Heidegger 1962, p. 68)

In order to explore the properties of Dasein further, I must appropriately explain what Heideggerian ‘mineness’ is and what its properties are. We will now introduce Heidegger’s explanation of the relationship between Dasein and instruments, which will assist with understanding ‘mineness’. Instruments, in the sense this essay speaks of, are tools that Daseins use to aid performance of tasks. It is a given that instruments are indifferent in terms of their attitude towards whoever may be using them, hence making Daseins replaceable whenever they are using instruments. If we agree on that, then it would be safe to say that when someone uses an instrument, they lose their ‘mineness’. Another reason for this potential loss of ‘mineness’ happens because when a Dasein uses an instrument, in a sense he or she becomes the instrument because of their being-in-the-world causes he or she to simply become another part in the whole process.

This explanation of Dasein leaves us with some implications. Firstly, it means every single Dasein cannot begin life without a singularity, consequently this means that there can be no fundamental ‘togetherness’ that precedes ‘mineness’, which implies that every person is in a sense separate from others. This part of the idea of ‘mineness’ is criticised by thinkers of the Hegelian tradition who place ‘togetherness’ in people before ones own ‘mineness’ (Houlgate 2006). Another implication of ‘mineness’ in a Heideggerian sense is that it is not compatible with a Buddhist sense of the self because they do not believe that people own their bodily self (Carlisle 2006), but I will attempt critique the Buddhist idea along with Heidegger’s idea of ‘mineness’ in the following section of the essay.

This essay will critique the Heideggerian idea of ‘mineness’ in two parts, firstly I will be judging ‘mineness’ on its usefulness, secondly we will attempt to find whether we could move beyond ‘mineness’ and in that we will compare it with the Buddhist concept of ‘mineness’.

In regards to the usefulness of ‘mineness’, we must first define in what context the word usefulness is being used as there could potentially different ways of describing usefulness. I will use usefulness in a sense of how something is useful in a practical sort of way, so that being useful is expressed in evidently productive sort of way irrespective of it being true or false. If someone sees himself or herself as irreplaceable and unique with a certain sort of ‘mineness’, I believe it is reasonable to suggest generally speaking, that he or she would place greater value on himself or herself at least in their bodily being than those who hold the Buddhist view. I will get into why I think this is the case as I evaluate the Buddhist idea of ‘mineness’ in the next section of the essay.

The Buddhist idea of what Heidegger terms as ‘mineness’ is greatly contrasting to his viewpoint. Buddhist thought provides an ancient alternative that leads us to question the grounds that Heidegger bases his arguments on. The ‘no-self’ view in essence teaches one to deny the existence of the ‘I’, the term was originally described by Buddha as ‘anattā’. He went on to describe that one has no eternal conscious substance that experiences thinking, but conscious thoughts would come and go without a ‘thinker’ behind them (Rāhula 1974). When ones body does die, the disembodied mental processes continue and one will reincarnate and as a result of this, this reincarnated being is neither completely the same nor a completely different being from the one that died.

The idea of ‘anattā’ shares similarities with Heidegger’s idea of ‘to-be’ (Zu-sein), which is where the essence of Dasein lies (Heidegger 1962). This essence is described as an unfinished project because of Dasein’s constant change until death. But there are two fundamental differences in these two ideas, firstly for Heidegger, being ceases at death, but for Buddhists, the flow of being remains in another form. Secondly, in Heideggerian philosophy, Zu-sein is always subjected to Dasein, but in Buddhist philosophy, if we were to use Zu-sin as the notion of ‘anattā’, there would be no being beyond that. So in essence, if we take away ones ‘mineness’, we have ‘anattā’.

On what grounds do we advocate taking away the ‘mineness’ like the Buddhist does? In an atomic sense, our bodies completely replace themselves around every year or so and it is also true that thousands of other humans occupied some of the same atoms that I am currently occupying, or you are currently occupying (Aebersold 1949). This in a sense could be seen as the ‘self’ losing ownership of their body because it is simply another collection of atoms that have flowed from life to life and place to place. This argument can be used to support the idea of ‘anattā’ because of its scientific grounding that holds a great amount of weight in it.

Although scientifically speaking ‘anattā’ makes sense, it is far from confirming the idea, because we have to ask that even though this atomic change in oneself causes one to be in a constant state of flux, does it have to mean that there is no self? Not necessarily, because the self does not have to be defined by what exact atoms it occupies, but its outer bodily shell can define it or even in the Lockean sense that defines the self through ones memories. So in a sense, for some philosophers change and constants can be made compatible which makes the idea of ‘anattā’ far from the only idea that can explain the entitlement of one’s self. It is also important to recognise that Buddhists hold the view of reincarnation, which compliments the idea of ‘anattā’ because if one is to go from one life to another and changes bodies in the process, then the grounds for the ownership of our bodies become weak. I will not go further into the idea of reincarnation and its implications to stay on topic for the remainder of the essay. Earlier, I explored how Heidegger’s idea of Dasein and the use of ‘mineness’ in particular weighs up in regards to its usefulness. I stated that those who adhere to the Heideggerian view of ‘mineness’ tend to value themselves in their bodily being more than a Buddhist thinker would. I believe this is the case because if a Buddhist feels that he or she is not entitled to claim his or her own body, then they see their bodily form as simply another stage in the stream of consciousness that is the self. Heidegger places the subject (Dasein) at the central point of being whilst the idea of ‘anattā’ in Buddhism causes Dasein’s to see that being is a process in a constant state of flux and not something solid or tangible.

In summary to these points, it is fair to say that because of the ideas these philosophies have expressed on the self and being, Heideggerian thinkers place the self at the centre whilst Buddhist thinkers tend to apply the doctrine of denying oneself and the antagonizing of ones physical desires.

Heidegger’s main contention in Being and Time is to understand the meaning of Being and whether he answers it or not properly is an issue that this essay will not look into. But in order to understand the meaning of Being according to Heidegger, it is important for Dasein to have its singularity and that singularity is ‘mineness’. Singularity is important because in observing life there are things that no other can do except for that Being, such as being born or to die. The role of losing ones ‘mineness’ when Dasein is using instruments as he or she is being-in-the-world is important because it shows that one could lose the ownership of themselves temporarily if they are using instruments because the instrument itself is indifferent to its user, making the user (any Dasein) replaceable. In order to understand the process of exposing ‘mineness’, we note the process that Heidegger describes as anxiety which places Dasein’s at a point where they choose to be authentic or inauthentic, this happens because as Heidegger puts it “Anxiety throws Dasein back upon that which it is anxious about – its authentic potentiality-for-being-in-the-world. Anxiety individualises Dasein”.

This opinion of ‘mineness’ and Dasein as a whole has received praise and criticism from many philosophers such as Sartre, Derrida, Levinas and Merleau-Ponty. These criticisms range from Sartre who attempted to bring Heidegger’s view of Dasein back to the Cartesian view and Levinas who reasoned that the fundamental philosophy of Being is ethics as opposed to the Heideggerian viewpoint of ontology being the fundamental philosophy of Being. This essay has looked at the view from the Buddhist perspective of Being, which was different to analyse as Buddhist thought on being was formulated before Heidegger so it was not a reactionary idea to Being and Time. The Buddhist view, as pointed out earlier in the essay state that the occupant of a current body is not the owner but he or she is simply a stream of consciousness that flows from life to life, ‘anattā’. Both the Heideggerian and Buddhist view of ‘mineness’ or ‘anattā’ have valid points for ones Being, but they are mutually exclusive, which subsequently means that they both cannot be accurate.

Reference List:

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Carlisle C 2006, ‘Becoming and Un-Becoming: the theory and practice of Anatta’, Contemporary Buddhism: An Interdisciplinary Journal, vol. 7, No. 1, pp.  75-89.

Guignon C 2004, On Being Authentic, Routledge, Abingdon.

Heidegger M, 1962, Being and Time, Harper & Row, New York.

Houlgate S, 2006, The Opening of Hegel’s Logic: From Being to Infinity, Purdue University Press, Indiana.

Ilharco F 2005, ‘On Mineness Action, Information and Knowledge In-the-World’, in The International Communication Association (ICA) 55th Annual Conference, New York,  24-26 May 2006, viewed 21 April  2012, https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:AhWC8MONTvYJ:www.ucp.pt/site/resources/documents/FCH/F%2520Ilharco/site%2520ICA%2520Ilharco%2520paper%25201.pdf+&hl=en&gl=au&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEESiPQs9vPI6wDuw08l1pcVrkPnMHq8cBHKbVFY6zHHCFMLSlZT78MWC_JpWzslntoim5vo4PhufZtxuFNnuKRj5M5iWlWfFiy6pW0lTF_tFGf_TIpgJNWCe0jiBEO0zyjXgtg4Xw&sig=AHIEtbQzxqMmDvSR7e8dX1P7E_OXG_cxuA&pli=1.

Käufer S 2011, ‘Heidegger on mineness and memory’, Annales Philosophici, vol. 2, pp. 51-65.

Mulhall S 2005, Heidegger and Being and Time, Second edition, Routledge, Abingdon.

Rāhula W, 1974, What the Buddha taught, Grove Press, New York.

Raffoul F 1995, ‘Otherness and individuation in Heidegger’, Man and World, vol. 28, no. 4, pp. 341-358