I am now to consider how meditation on technique has us come across the mystery of man's existence, just as we come across the seed in a fruit. Because man is a being forced, if he wants to exist, to exist immersed in nature; he is an animal. Zoologically, life means everything that must be done in order to exist in nature. But man arranges things in order to reduce to a minimum such a life, in order not to have to do all that the animal does. In the void left by advancement beyond the animal state, man vacillates in a series of non-biological duties which are imposed upon him not by nature, but which are invented by himself. And it is precisely this invented life, invented just as one invents a novel or a play, that man calls human life, well-being. Human life, then, transcends natural reality. It is not innate to him as falling is to the rock or the rigid repertoire of natural acts—eating, escaping, nesting, etc.—is to the animal, but rather he does them to himself, and this doing so ends up being the invention of human life. How? Human life: could it therefore be, in its specific dimension…a product of imagination? Could man be a type of novelist of himself, one who forges the fantastic figure of a personality with its unreal types of pastimes and which, in order to obtain life, does all that he does, namely: is he a technician? …
Man's existence, his being in the world, is not a passive one, but rather it has, by obligation to fight constantly against the difficulties that oppose it being in the world. Observe carefully: to the rock is given its existence, it does not have to fight to be what it is: rock in the landscape. But for man, being means having to fight incessantly with the difficulties which his surroundings present to him, therefore it means having to make existence for himself at every moment. We could say, then, that to man is given the abstract possibility, but not the reality, of existence. He must conquer reality for himself, minute by minute. Man, not only economically but also metaphysically, has to earn his living. And all of this, to what end? Evidently—which is no more than saying the same with different words—because man's being and nature's being do not completely coincide. Evidently, man's being possesses the strange quality of being partly kindred to nature, but partly not, which is at the same time both natural and extra-natural, a type of ontological centaur, of which a half portion is immersed, of course, in nature, but the other part transcends it. Dante would say that he is in it as boats are tied to the marina; with half the keel on the beach and the other half on the coast. The natural element is self-aware: there is no question about it. What's more, in the same way, he does not feel that it is his authentic being. On the other hand, his extra-natural component is not, of course, and quite simply, self-aware, but rather it consists, in the meantime, in a mere aspiration of being; a life project. This is what we feel to be our true being, what we call our personality, our ego. This extra-natural and anti-natural portion of our being should not be interpreted in the sense of the old spiritualism. I'm not interested in little angels, or in that which has been called spirit, a confused idea which connotes magic undertones.
If you reflect a little on this you will see that that which we call life is nothing but the zeal to undertake a certain project or program of existence. And the ego of each one of us is only this imaginary program. Everything that you do is in service of this program. And if you are now listening to me it is because you believe, in one way or another, that doing so serves you to come to be, privately or socially, this ego that each one of you feels the need and desire to be. Man is, then, above all, something that has neither corporeal nor spiritual reality; he is such a program to be; therefore, he is something of which he is not yet, but that which he aspires to be. It can be said that there can be no program if someone doesn't think of one, if there is, therefore, an idea, mind, soul or whatever it may be called. I cannot discuss this in depth because I would have to give a philosophy course. I can only make the following observation; although the program or project of being a great financier must be thought of as an idea, being this project is not being the "idea." I can think of this idea without difficulty and, nonetheless, I am very far from being this project.
I will now consider the extraordinary and unequaled condition of being human, a quality which makes him unique in the universe. Note how strange and upsetting the case is. An entity whose being consists, not in what it is, but in what it is not yet, a being which consists in not yet being. Everything else in the universe consists in what it is already. The star is what it already is; nothing more and nothing less. Everything whose form of being consists in being what it already is and in which, therefore, of course, whose potentiality coincides with its reality; that which can be with that which, effectively, already is, is what we call a thing. The thing's being has already been given and achieved.
In this sense, man is not a thing but a pretension; pretension to be one thing or another. Each epoch, people, and individual modulates general human pretension in a different way.
I think that now all the terminology of the radical phenomenon which is our life, is understood. Existence for us, means finding ourselves suddenly having to carry out the pretension that we find ourselves in particular circumstances. We are not permitted to choose beforehand the world or circumstances in which we must live but rather, we find ourselves, without our prior consent, submerged in our surroundings, in a world of the here and the now. This world or circumstance in which I find myself added is not only the surroundings in which I find myself, but also my body and soul. I am not my body; I find myself within it and with it I must live, be it in health or in sickness. But nor am I my soul: I also find myself with it and must use it in order to live, although, because it has little will and no memory, at times it does me a disservice. Body and soul are things, and I am not a thing, but a drama; a fight to become that which I must be. The pretension or program that we are, with its particular profile, presses upon the world around us, and the world responds to this pressure by accepting or resisting it, that is, facilitating our pretension in some facets and making it more difficult in others.…
That is how it can be explained that the world is somewhat different in each age and for each man. Faced with our personal profile; a dynamic and determined profile which oppresses circumstance, circumstance responds with another particular profile formed of peculiar means and difficulties. The world of the merchant is evidently not the same as that of the poet. Where the latter encounters difficulty, the former gets by comfortably, that which is repugnant to the latter makes the former rejoice. Of course the world of each will have many elements in common: those which respond to the generic pretension that is man as a species. More precisely because man's being is not given to him but rather is, at that exact moment, pure imaginary possibility, the human species has an instability and variability which is incomparable with that of the animals. Summing up, men are enormously unequal, despite that which the sponsors of equality of the last two centuries affirmed and those of archaic mentality of the present continue to affirm.…
In this perspective, human life, the existence of man, appears consisting formally, essentially, in a problem. For the rest of the beings in the universe, existence is not a problem—because existence means validity, achievement of an essence—; for example, "being a bull" verifies itself; it happens. Now, the bull, if he exists, exists already being a bull. On the other hand, for man, existence isn't simply existing as the man he is, but merely the possibility of such and the drive to achieve it. Who among you is actually someone who feels that he should be, that he must be, that which he desires to be? Differently, then, from everything else, man, upon existing, has to make his own existence, has to resolve the practical problem of achieving the program in which he, at any given moment consists. From that, we can deduce that our lives are pure work and inexorable duty. The life that each one of us leads is something which is not given to us already made, awarded, but rather something which must be done. Life gives us much to do; but in addition, it is nothing but the duty that is given to each one of us, and a duty, let me repeat, is not a thing, but rather an active entity, in the sense that it transcends everything else. Because in the case of the other beings, one may suppose that something or someone that already is, acts; but here we are dealing precisely with the fact that in order to be, one must act, which is nothing but such acting. Man, whether he wants to or not, must make himself. This last expression is not completely inappropriate. It points out that man, in the very root of his essence, finds himself, before any other state, in that of a technician. For man, life consists in, of course and above all, making an effort to bring into existence that which is not. That is, he, himself, takes advantage of what he has in order to do so. Summing up: it is production. With this I mean to say that life is not fundamentally as it has been believed to be for many centuries: contemplation, thinking, theory. No. It is production, construction, and only because these require such; therefore afterwards, and not beforehand, it is thinking, theory and science. Living…is finding the means to achieve the program that one is.…
Perhaps the basic sickness of our age is a crisis of desires, and because of this all of the astonishing potential of our techniquewould seem not to serve us at all.…
Because this is the incredible situation to which we have arrived and which confirms the interpretation that we sustain here: the estate, that is, the repertoire available to the modern man, is not only incomparably superior to that which he has ever had at his disposition … but we have the clear knowledge that they are so incredibly abundant, and yet, there is an enormous uneasiness which consists in the fact that contemporary man does not know what to be: he lacks imagination to invent the plot that in which his own life consists.…
This is to say that in this day and age man, in essence, is upset precisely by the consciousness of his basic limitlessness. And perhaps this contributes to his not knowing who he is, because finding himself, in principle, capable of doing anything imaginable, he then does not know practically what something that is, is.…
At every moment in my life various possibilities open up before me. If I do this, I will be A at a given moment. If I do something else, I will be B. At this moment the reader may cease or may continue the reading of my writings. And though the importance of this essay may be slight, according to whether the reader does this or something else, the reader will become A or B; he will have made of himself an A or a B. Man is a self-making being, a being which traditional ontology only encounters when, concluding and refusing to understand the causa sui with the difference that the causa sui only needed to exert itself in being the causa of itself, but not in determining what itself it were to cause. It has, therefore, a previously determined itself, invariable and consistent with, for example, infinity.
But man must not only make himself, but also must confront also the most serious of undertakings: determining that which he is going to be. This is a secondary causa sui. By a non-chance coincidence, the doctrine of the living being only finds in the tradition certain concepts of general utility; those which the doctrine of the living being attempted to consider. If the reader decides to continue reading, he will be doing so at the last moment, because this decision is that which best behooves the general program which he has adopted for his life and therefore the determined man which he has resolved to make of himself. This vital program is the ego of each man, which has been chosen from among various possibilities of being, which in each moment open up before him.
Regarding these possibilities of being it is important to comment upon the following:
First: That they are not given to me, rather I must invent them for myself, be it in an original manner or by transmission of other men, even in the ambience of my life. I plan projects of being and doing in light of the circumstances. Circumstance is the only thing that I find which is given to me. It is too often forgotten that man without imagination is impossible without the capacity of inventing for himself a life-figure, and of idealizing the person which he will become. Man is the novelist of himself, be he original or a plagiarist.
Second: I must choose among these possibilities. Therefore, I am free. But understand well: I am free by obligation. I am free whether I want to be or not. Liberty is not an activity exercised by a being which, apart from and before exercising it, already has a fixed being. Being free means lacking constitutive identity, not pertaining to a determined being, being able to be something other than that which one was, and not being able to adhere oneself finally and eternally on any determined being. The only thing that must be fixed and stable in the free being is constitutive instability.…
Man invents for himself a life program, a static figure of being, which responds sufficiently to the difficulties presented by circumstance. He rehearses this life-figure and tries to fulfill this imaginary persona which he has resolved to be. He sets out very willing and hopeful in this endeavour and experiences it to the utmost, meaning that he ends up believing profoundly that this persona is his true being. But upon experiencing this, the insufficiencies; the limits of this vital program, appear. He doesn't resolve all of his difficulties and produces new ones. The figure of life appeared first in front, by his luminous face. The excitement, enthusiasm and delight of promise are due to this. Later, his limitation is shown: his back. Then man plans another vital program. But this second program is conformed, not only in light of circumstance, but in consideration of the first as well. It is aspired that the new project avoids the inconvenience of the first. Therefore in the second, the first, which is conserved in order to be avoided, continues to act. Inexorably, man avoids being that which he once was. In the second project of being, in the second profound experience, a third project is forged in light of the second and of the first, and so on successively. Man "goes about being" and "un-being" by living. He goes about accumulating being—the past goes about forming a being in the dialectic series of his experiences. This dialectic isn't of logical, but rather of historical reason—the Realdialektik about which, somewhere in his papers, Dilthey—the man to whom we most owe our idea of life and who, for my tastes is the most important thinker of the second half of the nineteenth century—dreamed.
In what does this dialectic, intolerant of the easy anticipations of logical dialectic, consist? Ah! That is what one must figure out about the facts. One must figure out which is the series, which are the states, and in what the nexus between the successive states consists. This investigation is that which one could call history, if history proposed to find this out, that is, to convert itself into historical reason.
There it is, awaiting our study: man's authentic "being," stretched out along its past. Man is that which has happened to him, that which he has done. Other things could have happened to him, other things he could have done, but I affirm that that which has truly happened to him and that which he has done constitutes an inexorable trajectory of experiences which he carries on his back, just as the vagabond carries the pouch with his belongings. This pilgrim of being, this substantial emigrant, is man. For this reason it makes no sense to put limits on that which man is capable of doing. In this principal infinity of possibilities, characteristic of those without nature, there is only one limit: that of the past. Life experiences restrict mans future. If we do not know what is to be, we know what will not be. Life is lived in view of the past.
In summary: man, who is without nature, does have…history. In other words: that which nature is to things, history—as res gestae—is to man.
I.e., technique in "reforming" nature. Eds.
Causa sui means literally "cause of itself" or "self-caused." Eds.
William Dilthey, Gesammelte Schriften (Leipzig and Berlin: B.G. Teubner, 1935), VII, 287-288. Eds.
"Things done" as opposed to "somethings said or thought"; or the "deeds, themselves."Eds.