Volume 3, Issue 2, 2011
Grounding Ethical Norms in Heidegger’s Mitsein
While Heidegger didn’t seem much interested in ethical norms in his Being and Time, more recently Frederick A. Olafson has argued that Heidegger’s conception of Mitsein yields some fundamental insights for a grounding of morality. Olafson proposes an account in which truth as a partnership among people can establish a link between Mitsein and primary moral notions, such as responsibility and trust. My concern with Olafson’s account is twofold: first, I am not convinced that Mitsein really grounds people’s mutual commonality to the point he wants it to take – the point that seems to suggest that we conceive of ourselves
almost as interchangeable with any other member of our “world”, at least to the extent to which we value our own experiences and interests over those of others. My second worry has to do with the fact that Mitsein, even if it indeed does ground ethical constraints for those who share a “world”, gives us no grounds to extend these same constraints to those outside it, and a lack of commitment to establishing moral duties that can be universalized seems to be a serious weakness in any moral theory – even in one that does not attempt to produce moral rules as objective and absolute.