Heidegger and the Infant: A Second-Person Alternative to the Dasein-Analysis

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Heidegger’s analysis of human existence has long been criticized for ignoring the full possibilities of human encounter. This article finds a basis for the criticism in recent infancy research. It presents evidence for a second-person structure in our earliest encounters: An infant first becomes present to herself as the focal center of a caregiver’s gazing, smiling, or vocalization. The exchange in which the self thus appears is termed a You–I event. Such an event, it is held, cannot be assimilated into Heidegger’s Dasein analysis. The article locates the origins of temporality in the early playful exchanges that make up You–I events. The dread of losing the You is seen as the original form of what Heidegger calls dread in the face of death. The apparently self-sufficient self of the cogito first emerges, it is held, when the child becomes capable of playing the role of a You toward herself. This happens especially through talking “with oneself,” as in “inner” speech. The postinfancy self is here interpreted as a derivative of the You–I event. It is argued that because inner speech frees the child from a felt dependence on others for self-awareness, they are no longer experienced in their full significance. The loss of fullness extends to all beings, including the self, with the result that beings are, as Heidegger puts it, depleted of being.

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