Being and Time
Posted on November 9, 2009
Being and Time
I still remember my freshman year philosophy teacher intoning in mind-numbing fashion, “Being qua Being.” He was talking about the German philosopher Martin Heidegger, and his seminal philosophical work “Being and Time”.
I never could figure out what my Philosophy teacher was talking about, and since it was my second semester and springtime in Milwaukee, I did not particularly care, an attitude which landed me my second worst grade in my college career.
But it turns out that Martin Heidegger’s philosophy was pretty important to how we all live today. And, it turns out, that he was a Nazi, a man who strongly supported Hitler, and who never really renounced him.
A New York Times review of a new book about Heidegger (“Heidegger: The Introduction of Nazism into Philosophy) by Emmanuel Faye, caught my eye this morning. The book says simply that Heidegger was a Nazi, and his philosophy should be treated for what it was, hate speech.
Wading into Heidegger’s philosophy is still pretty mind-numbing. This is no Mein Kampf. It is not particularly readable for the uninitiated. But for those who set philosophical norms, Heidegger is particularly influential. According to Wikipedia: “Heidegger's work has strongly influenced philosophy, theology and the humanities. Within philosophy it played a crucial role in the development of existentialism, hermeneutics, deconstruction, postmodernism, and continental philosophy in general. Well-known philosophers such as Karl Jaspers, Leo Strauss, Ahmad Fardid, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Jean-Paul Sartre, Emmanuel Lévinas, Hannah Arendt, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Michel Foucault, Richard Rorty, and Jacques Derrida have all analyzed Heidegger's work.”
Heidegger’s particular insight was that for 2000 years, Western (and Christian) philosophy had it pretty much wrong. Again, here is Wikipedia: “Heidegger claimed that Western philosophy has, since Plato, misunderstood what it means for something "to be", tending to approach this question in terms of a being, rather than asking about being itself. In other words, Heidegger believed all investigations of being have historically focused on particular entities and their properties, or have treated being itself as an entity, or substance, with properties. A more authentic analysis of being would, for Heidegger, investigate "that on the basis of which beings are already understood", or that which underlies all particular entities and allows them to show up as entities in the first place. But since philosophers and scientists have overlooked the more basic, pre-theoretical ways of being from which their theories derive, and since they have incorrectly applied those theories universally, they have confused our understanding of being and human existence. To avoid these deep-rooted misconceptions, Heidegger believed philosophical inquiry must be conducted in a new way, through a process of retracing the steps of the history of philosophy.”
What that basically meant, in overly broad, Feehery-theory terms, is that pretty much everything we assumed to be true over last two millennia, is well, wrong. And we have to start from scratch, building up to a new reality.
Radical right-wingers may have embraced some of Heidegger’s ideas, but it is the left that keeps Heidegger around in the classrooms. As the Times puts it today: “Although Faye talks about the close connection between Heidegger and current right-wing extremist politics, left-wing intellectuals have more frequently been inspired by his ideas. Existentialism and postmodernism as well as attendant attacks on colonialism, atomic weapons, ecological ruin and universal notions of morality are all based on his critique of the Western cultural tradition and reason.”
We live in a philosophical muddle today. Everyone is striving to find their “authentic self.” Community norms are torn down. Formerly respected institutions, like the church and the government are despised. The individual is glorified and then destroyed. Basic morality is questioned and discarded.
While you can’t blame Martin Heidegger for all of these problems, you can question how the left wing has used this Nazi sympathizer’s ideas to put us in the weird world we currently live in.