This post is rather long, but I didn’t want to divide Heidegger into two. The difference between Heidegger’s early and late works is more a matter of emphasis than a radical break like that between early and late Wittgenstein (from here).
I will first give you the grasp I thought I had got of his philosophizing from various sites. Then I will refer to difficult sites that contradict much of what I thought I had understood.
I will also give you paragraphs that I obviously don’t fully understand, and sequences of paragraphs that don’t in fact follow logically, in my effort not to leave out significant parts of his philosophizing.
Heidegger’s philosophizing seems to begin on the question of what exactly ‘Being’ or ‘being’ is (from here). So I thought initially that his great concern was with Being, the metaphysical entity which is the opposite of Not-Being (which I had thought he was also concerned with). These had been the great concerns of Parmenides two and a half thousand years earlier, which I had already thought were completely potty (see here).
(Being, in the general metaphysical sense, is defined here as ‘the unseen permanence behind all becoming’ which is a pretty good way of putting it.)
During my previous plodding as a confused alien through Philosophy, I had got the message that Ontology (thinking about Being) has always been the queen of metaphysics. But now various sites seem to say that Heidegger disapproved of metaphysics. So was he actually concerned with Being?– unless he thought that Being wasn’t actually within Metaphysics. Where else is it then? I am confused!
But then, in another way too, I had to change my mind about Heidegger being concerned with Being as such. I thought now that he was in fact concerned with the ‘being’ of the individual human-being with his unique awareness of his eventual death, his search for the purpose of his life, and the dilemma of living beside other people while being ultimately alone with himself (see here), and other such matters that only the human awareness can have. None of these seem to me to be metaphysical matters but more like psychological ones.
Here are more words on this subject to confuse me: According to here, Heidegger’s main concern was ontology or the study of being. In Being and Time, he asked “what is ‘being?”, what is actually meant by the verb ‘to be’? That statement leaves it rather open for me which kind of Being or being Heidegger was interested in.
He further argued (from here) that time and human existence were linked, and that we as humans are always looking ahead to the future. Thus, he argued, being for a human being is really just a process of becoming, leading him to reject the Aristotelian idea of a fixed human essence. (I wonder, did Aristotle really mean that human beings have a fixed essence in that they don’t develop?)
But it is so difficult to make sense of Heidegger, even from interpreters who try to keep it simple, that I had to change my mind again and believe he was after all initially concerned with the metaphysical entity of Being. I still don’t know. I think I will come to the conclusion below that he was interested in both.
From here: ‘Heidegger’s writings are notoriously difficult and idiosyncratic, indulging in extended word play, employing his own spelling, vocabulary and syntax, and inventing new words for complex concepts. This was partly because he was discussing very specifically defined concepts (which he used in a very rigorous and consistent way)… ‘
And from here: ‘The analytic tradition values clarity of expression, whereas Heidegger thought that “making itself intelligible was suicide for philosophy.” Apart from…. obscurantism, analytic philosophers… considered the…content that could be gleaned from Heidegger’s work to be … faulty and frivolous, …. subjective or uninteresting. …. Heidegger is still derided by most analytical philosophers….’
The above paragraph was written by an interpreter. who was perhaps ill-disposed to Heidegger’s thought. Did Heidegger himself really think that philosophy should be so unintelligible that people couldn’t understand what the hell he was on about?
One has to wonder in the end whether what interpreters wrote about him was their understanding rather than his. And perhaps my interpretation of what they say, is mine rather than Heidegger’s. One can read one’s own understandings into Heidegger, as deep and dark as the crevasse in the glacier and as unreachable as the stars in the night sky. For me, there is suspicion that Heidegger doesn’t refer to anything real, so Deep and Profound that it falls through the bottom.
According to here, ‘Heidegger…rejected the approach of most philosophers since Descartes, who had been trying to prove the existence of the external world.’ (Does this mean that H. didn’t think there was an external world or that it didn’t need proving?! That for me is the perpetually weighty nonsense of logicking that Philosophy does!)
He used the the word Dasein for the being of the individual person. It translates simply as ‘being there’. I had thought it was a word invented by Heidegger, but no, only in January 2020 did I learn that it is a pre-existing word in German.
Heidegger seems to have taken up Husserl’s phenomenology as a method for getting at human experiences as such, whether it be mystical religious experience or experience of things that can be said to be more real. I scratch my head at that because all I can understand of Husserl’s phenomenology is that he said one should pay attention to ‘phenomena’. I think ‘phenomena’ means the impressions that come to one through one’s senses. What else do people do? What an entity really is – its noumenon or noumena – is something that comes to one through science delving into sub-atomic particles whizzing around (as someone has written). According to Husserl, one should, in one’s examination of human consciousness, ‘bracket‘ all considerations outside of the phenomena .
I don’t understand how concentrating on phenomena (which is surely what we all do anyway) can be seen as a foundation for philosophizing or as a methodology towards it. Did Husserl mean that philosophers should stop logicking on words but believe what comes to them through their senses? I don’t see what Heidegger saw so important in it, unless he saw that it really did represent a welcome revolution in philosophical thought. I don’t see how his own view in phenomenology diverged from Husserl’s. I don’t see what connection there is between phenomenology and Being/being.
Phenomenology and Ontology too are surely unnecessary for arriving at Heidegger’s eventual opinion, for example, that conformism and fitting-in with the majority is an inferior and inauthentic way of being a human-being, (or was that Sartre?)
It is written somewhere that Heidegger, at some stage at least, attempted to access being (‘Sein’) by means of phenomenological analysis of human existence (‘dasein’) in respect to its temporal and historical character. (What on Earth does that mean?)
Now we come to something else, from here: Heidegger thought that the being, the Dasein, of the individual doesn’t only consist of profound matters like awareness of his death and search for his purpose, but also such mundane matters as the ways he interacts with the hammers, nails and door-knobs of the world.
When these tools work as expected, the person isn’t aware of them; they are simply ‘ready to hand’. But when they don’t work, he becomes conscious of them and only at this point becomes a rational, problem-solving being. But he isn’t now aware of them in an intellectual, theoretical way as detached and isolated subjects. So Heidegger used the word Dasein (being there) for the immediacy in which the individual finds himself immersed in everyday life in the ordinary way of things, (from here).
The existence of hammers and door knobs only makes sense in the social context of wood, houses, construction, etc (what Heidegger called “being in the world”).
(I accept that hammers and nails are important to the householder, but is this another instance of philosophers’ banality towards human life that interactions with such tools is thought to be an important matter of being.)
According to here, Husserl, and Descartes too, saw Man as a subject confronted by objects, and Heidegger reacted against this. (Does this mean that Husserl and Descartes didn’t see Man as immersed in objects?) This, it seems, was one way in which the subject-object relation of phenomenology, according to Husserl at least, doesn’t work. (I don’t understand this.)
Heidegger seems to have thought that, even in these mundane ways, ‘being’ is still only something that applies to that unique entity, the human being.
According to here, Heidegger disagreed with Phenomenology when it said that the being of things simply consisted of phenomena within the individual’s consciousness. Instead, he regarded the being of things as consisting primarily of the ways in which they are used by individuals in their daily lives. Likewise, the individual’s being consists primarily of the ways in which he interacts with things. So, Heidegger called the being of the individual ‘being-in-the-world’ or ‘ dasein.’
(Oi! So does the previous sentence now mean that Heidegger thought that the being of things wasn’t a matter of Being as such, i.e. ‘the unseen permanence behind all becoming’, but consisted merely of their roles in the dasein of individual human beings! I would call Being in the sense of unseen permanence ‘metaphysical’ except for the fact that Heidegger seems to have disapproved of metaphysics! And anyway it seems, as I will mention later, that Heidegger regarded Being, as well as dasein, as a real thing.)
Heidegger thought that all previous philosophy had seen theoretical knowledge (a detached matter for its own sake) as the most fundamental ‘relation’ to human being. (‘Relation’ seems to me not quite the right word here.). No, Heidegger said, the being of the person is fundamentally that of interacting with things in the world in the practical way of Dasein.
Does this comment, from here, say the same thing?: ‘For Heidegger, it is not pure consciousness in which beings are originally constituted. The starting point of philosophy is not consciousness, but Dasein…. (What exactly does ‘constituted’ mean?)
Now one comes to what Heidegger meant by Angst, Authenticity and Inauthenticity. Angst is said to mean Dread or Anxiety. I wonder if Heidegger was referring to that nameless mental unease I often feel, which seems to be my guilt at not being constantly aware of the shadow of death, of lack of purpose, and of other heavyweight matters. Authenticity, Heidegger seems to say, means being aware of such matters, even though one may carry on politely and conventionally yet not expecting to find ultimate purpose in such a way of life (from here too).
This latter approach, thought Heidegger, allows us to respond to unique situations in an individual way, though still within social norms. This acceptance of how things are in the real world, however limiting, is itself liberating. This is how one should live. (So it seems to me that leading an authentic life can be quite neat and easy!)
Inauthenticity is having an awareness utterly sunk in contemporary life.
from here: Heidegger seems to have considered people who work on the land to have an instinctive grasp of their own humanity and to tend towards more authentic lives. Urban dwellers, he thought, are out of touch with their own individuality, lead inauthentic lives, and suffer Angst. ( I used long ago to heave a sigh of contentment when I trundled through the countryside and thought of old-fashioned farmers and farmworkers who weren’t smart, clever or modern.)
Heidegger’s Authenticity also seems to be related to the fact that for most of us there is now no God to give purpose to this world or reward to ourselves in the next. The only ‘purpose’ or ‘meaning’ is what we give our own lives by having an independent mind with independent values. Nietzsche had already said 45 years earlier that God is dead . ‘Absurd’ became the popular word for this state of affairs in the world.
(I think Heidegger must have seen awareness of Dasein, the immersion in the world, as also having something to do with ‘authenticity’.)
For me, the death of God may make one scream with the absurdity of the world, but it also does away with ‘salvation anxiety’ which for the Christian was the worry that God might sentence him to the infernos of Hell.
Another popular word in the existentialist literature after Heidegger is Finitude which just seems to mean that death comes to all of us, and that awareness of it is part of Authenticity. Did Heidegger himself say ‘The meaning of being is time’? (Perhaps this statement meant that the individual develops what he is over time.)
I have tried over and over to understand why exactly the post-Heidegger philosophy of Sartre and others is called Existentialism, but have failed despite here.
From here: Heidegger is thought of as the founder of Existentialism or one of them, mainly because his ‘ontology’ is an analysis of the mode of existence of individual human beings (which seems to mean his seeing people as creating themselves, making their own meaning, and facing up to death, and (in some way I don’t quite grasp) their Dasein too.) Yet he himself rejected this association, even though others saw his big influence on Sartre’s Being and Nothingness.
From here: For Heidegger, genuine philosophy cannot avoid questions of language and meaning, and that the description of Dasein could only be carried out in terminology inherited from Western philosophy itself. (That is entirely beyond me.) Thus, he looked forward to the ‘destruction’ that he would do to the history of philosophy, i.e. a transformation of its language and meaning (mmm!). He never took this step, because he had begun to turn in about 1945 from his initial opinions.
According to here : The difference between Heidegger’s early work, and his later work after his turn, is more a matter of emphasis than a radical break like that between Wittgenstein’s early and late works.
I had always taken for granted that Heidegger thought of Angst and Inauthenticity as applying specifically to modern man, but, according to here, it seems it was only now after his turn, that he did so. He now thought that the ancient Greeks were more ‘rooted’ than we, and that they had a more naturalistic worldview. (Did Heidegger mean ‘rooted’ in the same sense as when he said that people who work on the land today are closer to the truths of life. And ‘naturalistic’ is for me a confusing word because in philosophy it usually means a dismissal of any supernatural cause in one’s explanations.)
Heidegger thought too that the Greeks didn’t experience Angst; and neither (as has been said before) did the medieval Christians because they believed they were created of God, and that God had a plan. Modern people, however, see themselves as active subjects with desires to satisfy and objects to be made use of. Different worldviews create different understandings of what it is to be (or just different ways of being).
From here: After Heidegger’s “turn” in about 1945, he began to write of pre-Socratic philosophy as having an authentic openness to being (or Being?), but that from Plato onward, Western philosophy abandoned it. (I haven’t yet understood this, but see the next paragraph.)
Heidegger or his interpreters wrote of the West’s ‘technological, nihilistic’ understanding of Being (or being). I am not sure whether Heidegger meant this as beginning with Plato or as just a feature of modern times. (Does the term itself mean that using technology leads to a nihilistic attitude to the being or Being of things around one — that they are just there to be used; or that the nihilistic attitude comes first and leads to technology? I see it as initially the latter.) ‘Nihilism’ to me does seem to mean a lack of awareness of the Being or being of things around one in the world, i.e. ‘nihilism’ as the opposite of Being or being.
Did Heidegger mean, even more widely, that the West forgot the Being or being of the things of this world? (My mind rolls at these thoughts, even though I feel I have only got an inadequate and faulty idea of what Heidegger meant in his plumbing to before the origins of Western thought.)
To repeat the same meaning as above, from here: ‘Against the revealing power of poetry, Heidegger sets the force of technology. The essence of technology is the conversion of the whole universe of beings into an undifferentiated ‘standing reserve’ … of energy available for any use to which humans choose to put it. The standing reserve represents the most extreme nihilism, since the being of beings is totally subordinated to the will of the human subject. Heidegger does not unequivocally condemn technology; he believes that its increasing dominance might make it possible for humanity to return to its authentic task of the stewardship of being. Nevertheless, many of Heidegger’s later works are characterized by an unmistakable agrarian nostalgia.’
Here are my my own feelings on technology and science that I hoped might bring me closer to an understanding of Heidegger’s: When I am gardening, I don’t want to think of botany or horticulture. If my mind strays onto them, I feel a terrible ennui, or is it Angst?, closing in on me. I want to learn only from experience, like the gnarled old gardener ‘Adam’ in the Sunday newspaper of long ago. I also feel an ennui at the very thought of doing any mechanics underneath my car. I need to be able to understand all I’m doing and all I touch, like I feel I can when learning through experience. Science and technology are far beyond my being able to feel a togetherness of learning.
But that didn’t make me feel closer to Heidegger. I too have an ‘agrarian, anti-technology nostalgia’, but I can’t see it as arising from Ontology. I see it as just a matter of my values and feelings. I used to feel contentment at the thought of country people as they used to be, not modern or smart. entirely different from city people, That’s as far as I get to try to understand Heidegger.
This post here seems to me to be a conscientious attempt to explain Heidegger but it finally makes me realize that Heidegger, with or without re-wording by interpreters, is simply beyond me. It is beyond my kind of mind and values of what to reach out to for Wisdom. For me, it’s just not there; it doesn’t refer to any kind of reality. It’s so Deep and Profound that it falls through the bottom into non-sense. I am stuck at the level of believing my senses, and of reading Jonathan Swift and Anthony Trollope for ‘Wisdom’,
This site also established for me that Heidegger was not only concerned with the being of individual human beings, but about Being as such and therefore also not- Being. It also re-emphasized that H. was beyond me.
Philosopher Simon Critchley wrote 8 articles on Heidegger in The Guardian starting here. I felt that this too was conscientious stuff but that it was beyond my capacity and taste for Wisdom to start inching my brain through his words .
When I dipped my toes into George Steiner on Heidegger, I lifted them out. I didn’t bother with Hubert Dreyfus
But people have translated Heidegger into other languages which indicates that they had achieved an understanding of it!