The Play of Ethics in Eugen Fink
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The Play of Ethics in Eugen Fink

Central to Eugen Fink's distinctive understanding of the context of ethical engagement is his way of thinking about being in the world. From Fink's perspective we can see that Western metaphysics, and contemporary philosophical ethics, has forgotten the world. In its attempt to achieve objectivity, metaphysics has sought a vantage point that could be a view from nowhere. If the world is remembered, it is misconstrued to be a mere frame or container for objects and experiences. This has led to a conception of the ethical subject as a rational, autonomous individual who merely happens to be in the world. In failing to consider the meaning of being in the world, philosophy has rendered ethics nihilistic. Fink seeks to radicalize understanding the world and thus to radicalize the ethical subject as being in the world. For Fink, ethics is fundamentally situated, communal, and playful rather than merely rational. To be ethical requires knowing where we stand in the world, thus requiring being both in relation with others and open to the world. In this openness we are neither merely passive nor masters over our lives but, rather, active participants in the play of the world. Fink maps contours of situated human experience that must be included in discussions of ethics. I suggest that by emphasizing play, Fink allows for a more complex picture of the ethical self as characterized by playful openness and so accounts for one being in the world and [End Page 287] with others. Not only is there something ethical that belongs to playful behavior, but there is also a playful dimension to ethics that deserves greater attention.

Fink admits that there is an element of forgetting the world in everyday life, but this Weltvergessenheit is quite different from that of metaphysics. The world is more original than beings, objects, and subjects, for it is only from out of the open totality of the world that these things could come to appearance.1 In everyday life, though, this relation remains in the background. The world is groundless, yet through this groundlessness the world provides a ground for inner-worldly things. Fink writes, "The world is not a mere container in which things are gathered, it is not a mere krater in which beings are brewed, it is essentially that which grants every being appearance, the rise into light and its finite tarrying."2 The world is what allows things to come to appearance at all.

As the world is not inner-worldly, we never encounter the world itself in the world. The world is essentially hidden from us, yet our relation to this world is fundamentally intimate and familiar. Fink identifies this relation as cosmological difference, that is, the difference between the world and being: "World is the totality of appearances. This expression can be interpreted in a double sense. In one sense, that the totality as the all-surrounding is placed opposite that which is located in it, however not like a thing opposite other things. In another sense, in that one says that the mode of being of the totality is not to be explained here by the mode of being of the inner-worldly."3 Thus the cosmological difference expresses the difference between inner-worldly beings and the world itself as totality. The world is different from inner-worldly beings and surpasses attempts to conceptualize it. It is superabundant. The world is neither horizon nor existential, neither idea nor actual thing. Instead, the world is better understood as an actuality that provides all things a place, a beginning, and an end.4 The cosmological difference characterizes the way in which the human being, while inner-worldly, thinks and expresses this totality symbolically. Fink writes, "The cosmological difference . . . is a difference, which permanently, even when forgotten, penetrates our entire being. The human is the world-open being because in all boundedness to being, he always steps out into the open in which all things are found."5 The being of the world cannot be explained in the same way as other forms of being. Despite this, humans have the ability to express the totality...