Animality Revisited: The Question of Life in Heidegger's Early Freiburg Lectures

Existentia 16 (5-6):379-392 (2006)
Heidegger's assessment of animals in his 1929/30 Freiburg lecture course, The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics, has been the focal point of much recent debate. In this course, it appears Heidegger preserves the prejudices of metaphysical humanism by establishing an opposition between animal "behavior" (Benehmen) and human "comportment" (Verhalten) to the extent that humans, unlike animals, embody an understanding of being and, therefore, encounter beings as such. In this essay, I suggest this distinction can be properly understood only by turning to Heidegger's earliest Freiburg lectures where the question of "factical life" (das faktische Leben) is explicitly addressed. In these lectures, I argue Heidegger develops a three-tiered distinction that allows us to differentiate human life from animal life: (1) Humans, unlike animals, can articulate how things in the world matter to them in terms of where they fit in a meaningful nexus of social relations. (2) By becoming absorbed in these everyday social relations, human life has a unique tendency to secure itself from the abyssal structure of its own temporal "movement" (Bewegung). (3) Human life has the capacity to announce its abyssal structure, an announcement that affects us as anxiety, and makes it possible for us to own up to our temporal and historical constitution. Finally, I suggest that, for Heidegger, any interpretation of animality--whether anthropocentric or not--is itself made possible by a horizonal "event" that is more-than-human, that is always prior to and makes possible any understanding of being whatsoever.
Keywords Heidegger, animality, humanism, life, temporality
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