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Authenticity and Agency: Heidegger's Constitutivism


Most people think it is a good thing to be authentic—that is, to be oneself, to be true to oneself, or to express oneself in action. Yet the fact that we regard being authentic as an achievement means that we tend to fail to be ourselves in acting. This raises two related questions for philosophers: Why think that we should be authentic in what we do? And, if we think we should, why are we so often led astray from this ideal? This dissertation looks to the account of human agency contained in Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time to reconstruct his argument for why we should be authentic. This reconstruction takes its bearings from Heidegger’s appropriation of Aristotelian and Kantian models of action and agency, as well as from views in the philosophy of action known today as “constitutivism,” which hold that we can explain the authority of certain normative demands on us by appeal to the nature of action or agency. Heidegger’s version of constitutivism is unique is its attempt to show that, in virtue of acting at all, one is already committed not only to a standard of success in acting, but also to conditions that undermine success in acting. The first half of this work lays out Heidegger’s account of action and his distinctive conception of practical deliberation, which leads to a reconstruction of his account of our essential tendency to act inauthentically. The second half places his discussion of authenticity in relation to his philosophical methodology and his ontology, in order to find the resources to reconstruct his argument for why authenticity is an ideal of agency to which we are committed in virtue of acting at all. Ultimately, this reconstruction of Heidegger’s arguments in Being and Time offers a compelling, unified account of human agency that explains both why we should be authentic and why we so often fail to live up to this ideal.

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