the worldhood of the world (as such)
March 2, 2008 3:17 PM   Subscribe

Help me comprehend Heidegger's philosophical project and particularly his special understanding of Being.

I'm a third of the way through Being and Time, and while I tell myself that I understand some of the particular arguments he's making, I'm having a lot of trouble contextualizing it all into a compelling whole.

So: what would you say is his central philosophical commitment? (E.g., for Nietzsche the answer would be "Life," for Aquinas, "reconciling Aristotle and Augustine"). Feel free to get as technical as you need, but keep in mind that I'm looking for some idea of what has "moral" or "emotional" resonance for him.

I'm guessing that the answer is probably bound up with what he defines Being to be, but I'm not sure I've really got a handle on it. Is it Being in the Parmenidean sense of "unchanging, immobile unity that supersedes the false world of motion and multiplicity"? Is it contrasted to Becoming?

In terms of background, I've read his essay on Nietzsche and am vaguely familiar with his study of Hoelderlin and "The Question Concerning Technology." I have a reasonably solid grounding in the other major contemporary philosophers, though not Husserl or Bergson.

(Please don't make this a referendum on why it's bad to be a Nazi. If you must, try to relate it to my question)
posted by nasreddin to Religion & Philosophy (10 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
As with Nietzsche, the interpretive difficulty of reading Heidegger means that people have widely varying takes on him. Being no expert on Heidegger, I would advise you to get a couple of companion volumes on Being and Time and check in with them from time to time, understanding that they're going to be partial.

Hubert Dreyfus is famous for trying to interpret Heidegger from a quasi-analytic philosophy perspective -- I have found him very helpful, since that's my training. Dreyfus's course lectures on Heidegger are online.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:21 PM on March 2, 2008

I also think it would be useful to look at, at least, some brief secondary stuff on Husserl and other people that Heidegger was responding to. (Sorry I can't be of more help in answering directly. I find Heidegger very frustrating to understand, so cannot be confident that I can answer your question in a helpful way.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:25 PM on March 2, 2008

You could take a bunch of classes at Landmark Education. They're work is supposedly based on Heidegger's notion of being. I haven't read Heidegger, but I have taken some courses at Landmark, and found them valuable. (This was many years ago. As usual, YMMV.)
posted by alms at 5:19 PM on March 2, 2008

The only thing I ever do is link to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, but this is because it's an excellent resource if you've studied at least a bit of philosophy and want to know some more. It doesn't look like the SEP has an entry just on Heidegger, but a quick search shows plenty of related entries that can help you. This entry, as well as this one, look like they might be useful to you. But, even if they aren't, check our the related links at the bottom to see if there's anything there that can help you.

(Personally, though, I know almost nothing about Heidegger, and I second LobsterMitten's advice to check up multiple sources. I just thought I'd throw in some quick-and-easy links, for whatever they're worth.)
posted by Ms. Saint at 5:26 PM on March 2, 2008

I always found his work on the greeks useful, both to shed light on his own positions, and to expand my understanding of the pre-socratics and of Aristotle, & even Plato. Reading his essays in the collections published as Basic Writings or Pathmarks may be useful - they'll almost certainly be more straightforward than Being & Time (though the positions may have shifted, too)

From what I remember, though, being is "dasein" or "being-there" which is the experience of being a human being, and is fundamentally temporal, which is his main point in the book... It's sort of between phenomenology and existentialism, that we're thrown into the world, seeking to uncover meaning, etc. It's been a while since I've spent much time with it, but I'm pretty sure for Heidegger being is becoming...

Of course, reading groups, class discussions, advisor meetings and professor office hours are made for these sorts of things. If you're having trouble grasping the material, talk to your peers in the real world - asking for the vague or leftover thoughts of internet associates can't replace actual, interactive dialogue with other people who are currently and immediately involved in the same material.

And don't read the Landmark stuff ! :)
posted by mdn at 6:05 PM on March 2, 2008

The Landmark Forum classes are for-pay seminars that claim to be partly inspired by Heidegger's work. In previous discussions here (and in my own experience) there's been some sense that they can be cultlike, even if they are useful to some people. I would not go down that road right now, if what you want is to understand what Heidegger himself was actually up to. And you can accomplish this using free resources like library books and those online course lectures.
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:32 PM on March 2, 2008

Heidegger's central project was to chop down the tree of Metaphysics. Metaphysics, with roots in Plato, argues endlessly about what it means to be without defining being. Heidegger adapts Husserl's idea of phenomenological intention to attempt to find a grounding for being, and to discuss what one means when one discusses being.

Along the way, he invents a lot of words and loves the poetry of Rilke. If I was trying to find Heidegger's emotional core, I'd look to Rilke.
posted by klangklangston at 10:08 PM on March 2, 2008

I'm a philosophy grad student who hasn't read Heidegger, but have some friends who are very ardent proponents of him. I asked a similar question to one such Heideggerian, and he said that Heidegger saw himself as responding primarily to Aristotle -- Heidegger apparently claimed that no one ought to read his work without having first studied Aristotle for thirty years... My guess is that Heidegger wanted to justify a transition from the Aristotelian focus on being "qua being" to his notion of "dasein".
posted by voltairemodern at 7:55 PM on March 3, 2008

Best answer: Here's my own probably very distorted take-away. IANAP, though I played at being one in college.

The Being of beings is not, itself, a being (which is how we tend to conceive of it -- the ultimate being, the ultimate "thing"). It's rather something like an event or a gesture that has no explanation, no real substance, is sort of an inexplicable ripple on the surface of nothingness. The limit (or "horizon") of our understanding of being is time. At this point in history, can't think (sensibly, about) time at all. That's where our reason just sort fizzles out.

This is partly because conceals its nature from us, and we "experience" this concealment existentially as finitude, as the utter groundlessness of the "event" that we call being, as the "fizzling out" of our reason when we really try to get our heads around time. Being conceals itself in part because we have not prepared a place in our world for its revelation. To prepare such a place requires humility and the willingness to deal with the angst caused by confronting the groundlessness of all that is. As we become increasingly determined, blinded, and dominated by technology, the possibility of preparing such a place becomes increasingly remote. Heidegger is not optimistic that we will dig ourselves out of this metaphysical cul-de-sac. "Only a god can save us."

Bottom-line: we don't know what the fuck we are, why we're here, etc., and the more we let technology distract us from the anxiety of not-knowing, the more likely were are to fade into utter spiritual oblivion.
posted by treepour at 10:29 PM on March 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

I am also about a third of the way through Being and Time, and I've read a handful of other essays he wrote on art and language. I am reading B&T as an effort to rigourously articulate an epistemology grounded in subjectivity, which is in turn the first step in a larger project to ground philosophy in a reflexive understanding of our own existence in the world. it's a project somewhat like Descartes's work with the cogito, but ridiculously more sophisticated.

because I am a writer, I am thinking of it as writing the 1st person into the 3rd, and that is helping me to get into his language. I am reading all his constructions of objectively existing things as cryptic descriptions of a 1st person perspective. and that seems to be doing the trick, which could make it useful to read B&T as a description of subjectivity in phenomenological terms. (which is reductive only if you think of subjectivity as a simple thing.)

sorry this is so late, I only just joined. I hope it's still useful.
posted by object-a at 11:41 AM on August 18, 2008

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