Aristotle and Heidegger Allowing Personal Accountability
A disquieting article recently appeared in The New York Times. The article chronicles the story of Larry W. Peterman, resident of Provo, Utah, owner of a successful adult video store, and defendant in a case in which he was charged with selling obscene material. During Peterman’s trial, the following information came to the fore, "As it turned out, people in Utah County, a place that often boasts of being the most conservative area in the nation, were disproportionately large consumers of the very videos that prosecutors had labeled obscene and illegal. And far more Utah County residents were getting their adult movies from the sky or cable than they were from the stores owned by Larry Peterman."11 Mr. Spencer, a public defender who described himself as a devout Mormon said, "The fact is that an awful lot of people here in [Provo] are paying to look at porn. What that says to me is that we're normal."22
Provo’s "normal" residents buy twice as much pornography as the occupants of other comparably sized American cities.33 Ostensibly most, if not all, of Provo’s predominantly Mormon inhabitants have heard their church leaders constantly, unequivocally decry pornography.44 Yet despite constant warnings, not only are Provoans incontinent, they are statistically twice as incontinent as their other small-town counterparts. What could explain this weakness? Moreover, what is it in us that seems to make us prone, or whereby we make ourselves prone, to incontinence? Aristotle in his Nicomachean Ethics and Martin Heidegger in Being and Time both offer models of human action that account for human weakness, which Heidegger calls inauthenticity and Aristotle names akrasia. We shall examine both Heidegger’s and Aristotle’s models of action, and our aim throughout this study shall be to discover what moral weakness is for each of these thinkers, and what exactly makes this weakness possible. Heidegger’s penetrating analysis of human action yields - as we will discover - much insight into why we as humans are prone to weakness, which he defines in loosely social-constructionist terms that still allow for a large measure of personal accountability. However, in the end we shall see that Aristotle goes further than Heidegger in explaining human weakness because his model of action (1) encompasses key aspects of Heidegger’s carefully executed existential analytic and (2) allows for more personal accountability by giving a wider account of action that allows for voluntary action that is chosen by deliberation in addition to merely voluntary action.
Dasein, Modes of Being, and Being-in-the-world
John Caputo of Villanova University relates that in Being and Time, Heidegger wishes "to find a new conceptuality in which to ‘indicate,’ however ‘formally,’ the character of the pretheoretical, prephilosophical, indeed even a preconceptual life. This provocative and paradoxical task, to find...