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Who am I? An Exercise in Self-interpretation


Da-sein is a being which I myself am, its being is in each case mine. This determination indicates an ontological constitution, but no more than that. At the same time, it contains an ontic indication, albeit an undifferentiated one, that an I is always this being, and not others. The who is answered in terms of the I itself, the “subject,” the “self.” The who is what maintains itself in the changes throughout its modes of behavior and experiences as something identical and is, thus, related to this multiplicity…. As something self-same in manifold otherness, this subject has the character of the self.

                                                                                                                                —Martin Heidegger, Being and Time (1927)

COMIC STATEMENT: Remember, you're a unique human beingjust like everyone else.

The comic strip above aptly illustrates Heidegger’s famous concept of ontological difference briefly touched upon in the quote. For Heidegger, there are two distinct yet intimately interconnected levels of human existence: the ontological and the ontic. As the comic strip states, we are all unique individuals characterized by a singular set of beliefs, practices, skills, attitudes, feelings, and background experiences. However, perhaps contrary to expectations, it is precisely as a unique human being that we are “just like everyone else.” In other words, our irreducible uniqueness or irreplaceable identity expresses, exhibits, or discloses an ontological structure of human existence in general. This mutual interplay and interrelation between uniqueness (ontic level) and universality (ontological level) is, however, typically confused or conflated. For example, if the statement in the comic is interpreted on one level only (either ontologically or ontically), as the child no doubt interprets it, then the statement is actually confusing and contradictory. The wit and humor of the comic consist in the fact that its insightful distinction between two fundamental dimensions of human existence only appears to be contradictory.

Your assignment:
Write a 3-4 page essay on the question Who am I? Your answer should be formulated in terms of the three ontological structures below:

1. Temporality: How do I experience and actively relate to my past, present, and future? What are my future-oriented projects or goals? What are my defining formative conditions and past experiences? How do my past and future relate to each other?

2. Being-in-the world: What does my dealings with the ‘world’ (speech, activities, attitudes, reactions, needs, concerns, etc.) reveal about me? My interests, priorities, values, roles, ideals, etc.?  In short, what specific mode or way of existing is exhibited by my concrete, practical engagement in the world?

3. Being-with-others and being a self: What does my relationship with others reveal about who I am? How does this interpersonal dimension of existence affect my self-relation, i.e., my relationship to myself? What is the connection between the social and solitary dimensions of my self and what does this connection reveal about my individual way of existing?