The Philosophy of Heidegger (book review) Michael Watts

(Continental European Philosophy)


200204: now 10 years... 250317: this is a much much much much much later addition: has it truly been 4 (5, 6, 7) years since read? yes apparently, and it has informed me in all the 'continental' philosophy that comes later in my reading. on the other, this influence has not all been positive, for it has also made me realize how the limits of intellect can lead the very intelligent off the cliff of ethical, of moral, of authentically human thought- the history of his behaviour contrasts with the moral stance of henri bergson, and though bergson's lesser immediate and total influence on thought of the 20th century, i much prefer him (it is said bergson refused special treatment to avoid the fate of fellow Jews by the germans in ww 2, in Paris, possibly contacting pneumonia while waiting in line to register as a Jew)...


291115 this is a much much much much later addition: having just read ortega y gasset [book:The Revolt of the Masses|282447] and think of it as essentially contemporaneous to heidegger, do not know if they influenced each other, but the disgust with the common, the mass, 'man' in european culture- there spain, here germany, is palpable and not much argued but assumed here by hd. well i wanted to try and place hd in his time and culture, i guess now i have to read americans like dewey, pierce...


040815 this is a much much much later addition: thinking over an excellent biography on hd [book:Martin Heidegger: Between Good and Evil|207897] that chronicles his career before his masterwork 'being and time' (hereafter bt) and after, thus before ww2 and during and after, that makes the case hd was complex, his actions, his expressions, in service of his 'greatest error', do not allow simple judgement of his philosophy. agree on this point: hd does not fail as a philosopher, his brilliance here is clear- hd fails as no more than a moral man. and is this more or less...?


this is a much much later addition: in reading an excellent book on husserl, i can see why he refused heidegger's 'poetry of being', how in fact phenomenology is an attitude, a method, that insists it must be essential technique for all sorts of continental thinkers throughout the 20th century. this is not to say it or hs himself could determine what this 'research project' came up with, but now i want to read hd's 'problems of phenomenology'...


010415 this is a much later addition: now, after over two years other philosophy reading, i note that this was not my last heidegger work read, but how necessary, how fascinating, how original, he is for at least the phenomenological work of everyone from sartre, merleau-ponty, de beauvoir, even in contrast to husserl, who started this style. and how, even given his great error, his thought is fruitful, useful, and you probably cannot feel you have followed continental thought without at least reading some texts on or by heidegger. so this remains a five...


this is a later later comment: having read much more, i can still say this is the best introduction/exploration of entire corpus and career of this divisive brilliant philosopher.


040712 first review: instead of the usual separation of before and after 'the turn', as in other works on heidegger, this work emphasizes the continuity and persistence of his thought. rather than showing a linear evolution of his thought, after a brief bio, we encounter a chapter characterizing heidegger’s essential philosophical concern: what he started with, what he continued with, what he ended up with- and this is 'the question of Being'. this is the meaning of life. this is an unanswerable question, and hd will try to show why this is the inevitable, unavoidable, final result...


i enjoyed this chapter so much i returned to reread it before reading the fourth chapter. i have never been so enlightened of his question in any previous text, though that i found it concise and understandable might just be all those previous texts read. i now know the distinction between beings and Being, i now know his difference between ontic and ontological, i now know how this question seeming so simple could absorb fine minds for entire careers. i do not want to claim in this surpassing his critics, all those learned profs who see only opacity, obfuscation, deceit, over his inventions of neologisms and new meanings to old words. i do want to claim they are missing hd's work because it becomes something more poetry than philosophy...


after summing up and displaying the question and the varied ways some being is to be determined- the what, the how, the that- and then about forgetfulness of Being since the pre-Socratics, and then that special relationship to Dasein- which is the individual human consciousness, the 'be-there', which is always an enduring question of the way we humans live, hd continues to investigate Being. i have the impression that phenomenology of husserl was too abstract from the way hd wanted to characterize our sense of the world. hd focused even more than hs on 'the things themselves', not in any logical pursuit of essence but rather in the focus on how we as dasein receive/construct/determine the way something is intersubjectively real that we call the world, and how this persists against the 'theoretical' stance he felt phenomenologists as much as all previous philosophers, insisted on placing being...


yes, i am trying to figure this out as i write this review, but after all hd worked on it himself for years and only published his magnum opus ’bt’ incomplete, promising more, simply because it was required if he wanted professional standing. so i am trying to be forgiving of myself, but i am not the only one to forgive. wait til we reach the thankfully last chapter on politics...


or can i justly defer the central reason i have difficulty now summing up the man's brilliance? i am troubled by this, i am finding myself conflicted in praising the ideas and ignoring the ethical question of even respecting him, by this knowledge of where heidegger lets his thoughts take him, i feel even betrayed that philosophy as a study of reason could ever lead to madness. i confess suffering equal dismay as i read on nietzsche as his ontology goes from the self to the social organism, from metaphysics to ethics- even allowing that his texts were distorted and rendered anti-semitic by his surviving sister. but then this is a review of the book and the high rating i give it is not in agreement to hd's final failing, but how well this book works to summarize hd, how well even it clarifies hd's actions in career and speeches and perhaps mostly what he never offered...


so those people who know a little on hd can probably guess what the problem is, and how recognition of his 'error' radically, unavoidably, causes all his thoughts to be looked at again. just to see where he went wrong.


this book does delay discussion of this seminal error to the end. can i do that in this review? i will try.


because heidegger’s metaphysics, his thought, even if not fully formed in bt, is so inspiring. this book sums up his entire conception of dasein and the world, and what breadth of concept and experience is the 'world', that are like all great ideas so brilliant they appear obvious and we wonder how we could have missed them. the central insistence is to appreciate the world from first-person perspective, that hd must create even new terms against how 'worn out' our words have become in this world. we must realize 'our' dasein has an a priori nature, a structure, an awareness we all sense on some perhaps subconscious level. there is dasein's 'being-in-the-world', dasein's 'being-with-others', there is the question of 'things', there is the constant question of ourselves revealed in 'primordial' time, of the world 'as-structure' and 'fore-structure', of how we have our original relationship, our 'primordial condition', to the world as 'care', expressed as 'solicitude', sensed as 'meaning', and how this is modulated by 'moods' in our 'everyday-ness', of 'ready-to-hand', of 'present-to-hand', of tools and invisibility, of how we look at the world according to our 'stance' or 'enframing', of the immediate 'equipmental' 'attunement', of the difference between 'falling' and 'idle chatter'. we must recognize our 'conscience', our 'guilt', our necessary response as 'authenticity' which is the arisen by true resolute 'being-toward-death' and this 'authenticity' of the self discovered against the 'they', how we must recognize our temporal existence- our being not simply a series of isolated, equal, distinct points of something we call time, how there is time of 'temporality' and 'historicality', how time is 'ecstatic' unity and a matter not counted increments but before and during and after, again from dasein, that is brought into the world by dasein, that is the nature of being. and how we must accept our 'thrownness' and so 'facticity', our 'heritage', but with this our mortality must 'anticipate' our being beyond death... yet this is not 'death' we know, the simple 'demise' or 'perishing' all animals must face, this is the impossibility of the possibility of 'having' no being for dasein. to truly internalize each our final imminent or eventual death, to 'run-towards-it', is the first step to truly living...


there is a useful chapter on 'truth' as aletheia- unconcealing- or 'revealing', and not simple familiar correspondence unified by copula of quality and substance. dasein learns 'truth' in 'clearing'- a kind of 'thought space'- that is revealed through time, there is more 'language', more aletheia and then the 'turn' of which we are all so familiar, which might be understood as the abandonment of subjectivity and mere human dasein, for the ultimate, poetic, conceptions of primordial being. as with 'moods', hd gives art and particularly poetry as original language, maybe, more than plausible power in shaping our world. but artists will like it. hd gets poetic and prophetic, and tries to give an artistic appreciation of our human world as 'the fourfold', in which there are the ways of being we call earth, sky, mortal, gods- but as with any elemental pretension, these are not 'substances' or 'things' but ways of being. best expressed through art, best manifest as poetry. and perhaps this is the essential and original difference between husserl and hd: husserl conceives of philosophy as a rigorous science, heidegger expresses philosophy as art. whereas hs would deliberately investigate the forms of knowledge that say the natural sciences, came up with, hd is vehemently dismissive of the entire scientific-truth-primacy, which i can agree with against scientism, and hd sees the greatest threat to our or dasein's humanity as coming from the 'enframing' of our world by technology...


oh yes. brilliant. as mentioned, i reread chapter 2 simply for the intellectual pleasure. this book is great- even especially in that last chapter on politics... there is no way to escape it, no real way to forgive it, no way to contextualize or soften the brutal truth: heidegger was a nazi...


put it at the end of this amateur review like the book puts it at the end of chapter after chapter convincing the reader of heidegger's great, brilliant, thought. wonderful complete reversal of fortune, this makes the book even better in my mind: the intellectual journey of discovery turns on itself in one last, ironic, truth. this is of course only one chapter. and this is only the last paragraphs of a decidedly amateur review. earlier on, watts does mention hd's concept of truth and how truths are time-era-society dependent. hd was nothing if not consistent- and in this way, described here in clear terms, hd and his nazi error were entirely along his philosophical beliefs, not an aberration, not a passing error- and that he never admits his mistake but tries to weasel out of it, tries to diminish it, tries to rewrite history more favourable to himself? is not this the most damning evidence of inauthenticity? how can we even respect him? he was not alone, he was misled, he repented in silence to retain some power to help, he was forced by circumstance, he never offered an apology after because he wanted to be consistent, he was against ww2 as the triumph of technology and cosumerism and mistaken 'democracy', that levelled all the worlds, all values, all truths, he thought 'only a god can save us now' etc... i. do. not. care. no, hd is further unfortunate demonstration that the greatest art- or in his case philosophy- may not be the most moral art. like saying 'birth of a nation' is a great film that established the entire grammar of filmic possibilities... but not mentioning it is a hateful racist screed... or like admiring films 'the godfather' and 'the godfather part two' without noticing they depict murdering criminal enterprise as (moral) fairytale*... no, it is not like the nazis ever needed a party philosopher, no, it is not likely heidegger was himself a 'biological racist', no, it is not like hd could imagine his fellow nazis would murder six million jews... but then, tell me, what is the value of being the most brilliant philosopher of his era, what is the value of all those epochal ideas, when he cannot see that hitler and the nazis... are a very bad idea?


i have trouble answering this to myself. there is denial, horror, disbelief, horror, relativism, horror, horror, horror... i feel exactly like a survivor of post-traumatic stress. if the honourable death of Socrates is how we would all like to believe philosophy leads to, how we would like to be as humans, like to be as philosophers... heidegger’s 'nazi error' is the exact opposite. i feel in some ways that my most cherished belief that reason will determine the best qualities of humans will eventually triumph, this hope, this dream- is more fragile and threatened than our human biosphere by global climate change...


and the only answer for myself: read, read, read... and hope i can think myself free. this is a great book.


later comment: and now, over a year later, having read on, i am discovering how much thought i loved is possibly more husserl, than heidegger, how necessary it seems to separate brilliant insights, great ideas, involving and viscerally inspiring perceptions, with hd's essentially mistaken view of the nazis, of trying to rewrite his past, of being embedded in german history. but, always, his nazi error is how to end evaluation of hd, rather than how to begin. for it closes down any argument, any value to his thought, any hermeneutic insistence of worth, by simply saying, 'yes, but heidegger was a nazi...'


*though perhaps we should see fairy tales are romanticized gangster tales: feudal, familial, fantasies? there are so many books to read and so little time...

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if you like this review, i now have website: www.michaelkamakana.com 220611: this is probably the most academically accurate of the translations I have read of this book, but still prefer commentary o