Nancy J. Holland continues
on what is appropriate ethically.
What this means in relation to the ethical use of the concept of the appropriate is that just as our unthematized understanding of how the hammer works is invisible in our ready-to-hand use of it, and just as the truth that underlies our understanding of Being becomes invisible, is hidden as aletheia, so our normal sense of appropriate action is invisible in our everyday acts of moral judgment. On this account, our sense of what is appropriate would become visible or explicit only when our ready-to-hand use of it, its hiddenness, is blocked in some way that makes morality “unready-to-hand,” or problematic. If traditional approaches to unblocking the process fail, the underlying “rule” of appropriate action may become “present-to-hand” as an object of thematic consciousness that we can choose to accept or to reevaluate, but in full knowledge that there can be no grounding for such reevaluation is any transcendental, “objective” reality. We become “authentic” for Heidegger in our choice of action under this condition of indeterminacy, in our conscious appropriation (or rejection) of what we previously accepted uncritically in our immersion in the everyday. On this view, one of the “objects” given shape and meaning in the Open created by the Greek temple, along with “trees and grass, eagle and bull, snake and cricket,” would be the moral structure of the world the temple created, a moral structure we can see being made explicit, and evolving, in the work of the classic Greek tragedians.
This last result is similar to the transformation of ready-to-hand tools such as the lever and the inclined plane into unready-to-hand objects of large-scale engineering problems eventually resolved into present-to-hand formal mathematical and physical principles. In the same way, the explicit thematization of traditional moral values when unusual problems arise places them in relationship to each other and thus always potentially makes obvious the inconsistencies, the contradictions, among them. This critical function is central to my use of the concept of the appropriate. The lesson in The Madwoman of Chaillot, however—and Heidegger’s lesson in his work on technology—is that these two critical processes are similar, but not identical. The thoughtful, reflective comparison of the values implicit in our sense of the appropriate, like the thoughtful, reflective understanding of literature or the thoughtful, reflective understanding of the meaning of Being, is an art, not a science. Instrumental rationality has its (cultural, historical) limits, the limits of the law personified by the Ragpicker/President. Just as Heidegger’s recasting of metaphysics reveals the limits of science and any epistemology of the “merely” present-to-hand on which it may be based, so calling on the concept of the appropriate reveals analogous limits in the moral realm and brings forward the need for authenticity, the need to supplement the law with a deeper sense of human value.