In a certain sense, the concept of horizon is anti-humanistic, for it does not suppose that ethical action is wholly conscious or wholly self-originated. On the contrary, the concept of horizon emphasizes that the self and its world interpenetrate at every point. There is no part that is purely self or purely world. It may well be the case that both reality and the self are social constructs; that is, who I am and what I imagine the world to be like are constantly being shaped for me by the society of which I am a part. My world is not wholly distinguishable from the twentieth-century educated American world; my self is not wholly distinguishable from the social groups in which I live and move and gain my being. It is truer to say, not that I am I, but that I am you. You and those others whom you represent tell me in countless ways who I am. We others shape each of you.
The experience of nothingness arises when we consciously become aware of—and appropriate—our own actual horizons. What once seemed fixed and steady dissolves. What seemed certain, necessary, and stable suddenly seems arbitrary and unfounded. We do not know who we are. Yet we keep inventing ourselves. We continue to throw up symbols against the dark reeling formlessness in which we seem to be adrift, like space ships whose rockets no longer fire, whose direction can no longer be controlled. It has become part of the human condition in our time, at least for those who attain a consciousness that is increasingly communicable, to face the formlessness of nothingness. It is the task of ethical reflection today to make such formlessness its starting place. That nothingness cannot be evaded. Fidelity to it, moreover, liberates, instructs, and delights. In comparison, the pursuit of happiness that we used to share seems pallid, dehumanizing, and sickeningly destructive.