Heidegger made simple

Published June 7, 2016-Updated July 19, 2020

The photo above was taken during Heidegger’s Paris visit in 1955. The photo shows him with Lacan and their wives in Lacan’s house in Guitrancourt, near Paris. During the visit in Paris, Heidegger delivered the lecture ‘What is Philosophy?’ at Cerisy-la-sale. Left to right: Heidegger, Axelos, Lacan, Jean Beaufret (recipient of the Letter on Humanism), Elfriede Heidegger, Sylvia Bataille (by this time married to Lacan). You can find more on Heideggers biography here.

The Basic Question: What is Being?

Heidegger’s main work, Being and Time (1927), begins with a traditional ontological question, which he calls the Seinsfrage, or the “question of Being.” He uses a quote from Plato’s dialog “Sophist” (244a) to illustrate it:

For manifestly you have long been aware of what you mean when you use the expression ‘being.’

We, however, who used to think we understood it, have now become perplexed.

In Heidegger’s own words, the basic question of philosophy, the Seinsfrage, can be formulated as follows: “If Being is predicated in manifold meanings, then what is its leading fundamental meaning? What does Being mean?” 1 We can easily predicate a secondary quality to something that exists, for instance: it is blue, or it can fly. But how do we predicate existence? What does it mean if we say that something is, or exists? Do we predicate being-ness always in the same way, or are there different ways of existence? If there are many kinds of being, or many senses in which existence may be predicated of something, what is the most fundamental kind of being, or: what is the being that may be predicated of all things?2

Departure Points: Husserl, Descartes, Plato, Aristotle.

In order to pursue this question, Heidegger transforms and radicalizes Husserl’s method of phenomenology and begins to investigate the fundamental sense of “being” with a particular kind of analysis. The starting point for philosophy since Descartes is the human being itself. Heidegger says that if we want to know what it means to exist, and what the most general sense of being is, we have to start with ourselves, with the subject that poses the question. What Descartes missed, according to Heidegger, was the sense of being that accompanies the existence of the subject, so Heidegger starts here and calls our human way of being “Dasein.” Dasein refers to the way in which creatures exist who can pose the "Seinsfrage," the question of the nature of Being. This characteristic makes them different from anything else in the world. Dasein is not the biological human being, nor the person in an abstract legal or philosophical sense. Dasein is a way of life shared by the members of a community, similar to the way in which a language exists as an entity, or as a communally shared form of communication. Heidegger describes his departure from Descartes with these words:

With the cogito sum Descartes had claimed that he was putting philosophy on a new and firm footing. But what he left undetermined when he began in this “radical” way was the kind of being which belongs to the res cogitans, or — more precisely — the sense of the being of the sum.

The Cogito (I think) never exists outside a pre-existing way of life, and therefore Heidegger reverses Descartes: I am, therefore I have the capability to think. Human existence, or the fundamental character of Dasein, is a condition of already “Being-in-the-world.” Before any reflection begins, we are already caught up in, involved with, or committed to other individuals and things. These practical involvements and commitments are ontologically more basic than the thinking subject and all other philosophical abstractions. Accordingly, Being and Time uses concepts such as “Being-in the-world,” “everydayness,” or “Being-with-others.”

But Heidegger not only departs from Descartes. He also separates himself from Plato and Aristotle, and tries to find a new starting point, prior to an ancient turn in the history of philosophy. In this regard, his thinking parallels Nietzsche’s ideas, about whom he wrote a voluminous book.

Heidegger rejects a metaphysical framework that separates “subject” and “object” – these are in his view inappropriate terms of metaphysics. They originate very early in the Aristotelian disciplines of “logic” and “grammar,” and once they were defined, the formalization of language dominates our philosophical ideas. Heidegger wants to reverse this current and tries to liberate language and thinking from grammar. He claims to uncover a more original paradigm, a form of philosophical-intuitive thinking that we can also find in poetic creation. Similar to psychoanalysis or structuralism, he seeks to minimize the role of the conscious subject in his analysis of the human being. But he does not want to replace consciousness with a calculus or a topology of the psyche, and he is wary of epistemological errors in theories that treat consciousness as a derivative phenomenon. His thinking gains momentum by employing travel metaphors (“On the Way to Language“) and by situating itself close to poetry. He wrote not only about language, but also about the German poets Rilke and Hölderlin. The liberation of thought from grammar frees us from the “technical interpretation of thinking” laid out originally by Plato and Aristotle. For Aristotle, thinking is “technē,” a process of reflection in the service of doing and making things. or of praxis and poiesis. For Heidegger, thinking is primarily not a practical endeavor, it is not in the service of action. This allows him to take philosophical positions not only against scientific positivism, but also against Marxists like Sartre, who was in many ways a kindred spirit to Heidegger. In the Letter on Humanism (1947) Heidegger writes:

Thinking is not merely l’engagement dans l’action [engagement in the action] for and by beings, in the sense of the actuality of the present situation. Thinking is l’engagement by and for the truth of Being. The history of Being is never past but stands ever before; it sustains and defines every condition et situation humaine.

Because of this relationship to the “truth of Being,” thinking is also not merely a theoretical endeavor. Human thinking has a history, and therefore a destiny that links it to Being. Heidegger tries to develop a holistic philosophy that views existence and thinking as two sides of the same coin, rejecting on the one hand an instrumental interpretation of thinking (positivism) and on the other an emphasis on pure theory (Idealism, Plato). He disagrees with Plato, because he sees in him the philosopher whose fascination with theory started the traditional misunderstanding that underlies our view of the world and the place of the human being in it. The idea that one could understand the universe in a detached way, by discovering the principles that organize the richness and the diversity of phenomena, created a breakthrough in the development of humanity similar to the control of fire or the creation of language itself. Once the idea of theory was born, philosophy began its triumphant journey. It is so attractive because it carries an implicit promise of power over nature. But in Heidegger’s eyes, Plato set us off on the wrong track by thinking that theory reigns supreme, that thinking becomes the real reality, while the rest of life is only a shadow. This leads us to think that we can build theories of everything, even of human beings and their world, and that the way humans relate to things is to have an implicit theory about them.

It would be wrong to say that Heidegger is entirely against theory. As powerful and important as it is, it is also more limiting than we realize. He wants to show us “that there is no theory of what makes theories possible.” 3 He is convinced that his analysis undermines one of the deepest and most pervasive assumptions accepted by traditional philosophers from Plato to Descartes, Kant, and Hegel. He claims to unveil a fundamental misunderstanding at the root of traditional philosophical thinking and the modern project, and he also tries to recover an earlier and more poetic form of genuine thinking. His philosophical stance is similar to the intuitions of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, and for this reason he is often labeled an “existentialist,” even though he rejected the term for himself.

Heidegger argues that Western Thought is mostly a reactive posture that tries to preserve the autonomy of thinking against the immediacy in the impulse to act. He claims that philosophy gets more and more absorbed into science, and this forces academic philosophers to defend the prestige of their discipline by emulating scientific methods and the rhetoric of “progress” in their own field. Philosophy today becomes specialized like other sciences, and philosophical papers are increasingly abstract or technical. Heidegger rejects this trend and contends that thinking loses its essence when it turns itself into a science or merely a theoretical activity. That which is lost, abandoned in the technical interpretations of language, meaning, and logic, is the question of Being and its truth. Heidegger’s project in “Being and Time” is to recover not only the original question but the form of Dasein that goes along with it.

In the following, I will briefly discuss Heidegger’s epistemological foundation in Husserl’s phenomenology, and then I will outline his view on society, and his understanding of “authentic existence.” This term played a major role in the reception of Heidegger’s work, especially in the field of psychology.

Phenomenology and Daseins-analysis.

Edmund Husserl (1859-1938) was the founder of phenomenology and the teacher of Heidegger in Freiburg. His phenomenology was a new version of Cartesianism, focusing on the realm of consciousness as “subjectivity.” Phenomenology is the examination of consciousness in the stream of experience. It can also be defined as the study of the essential (or ‘intentional’) structure of experiences. “Intentionality” for Husserl means that consciousness is mainly oriented towards objects, it is “about something.” 4 Husserl’s philosophical method consists in “bracketing” or subtracting all external knowledge or considerations of the outside world when the philosopher considers how a phenomenon appears to consciousness. What do you really see when you look at the tree? What is left after the phenomenological bracketing is pure experience in the tension between subject and object, and Husserl searches for the basic structures in these manifold experiences.

Phenomenological description is a reflection-based and introspective analysis of the respective experience that tries to reach beyond the merely linguistic expressions or common understanding of the phenomenon. Heidegger wants to apply the method in the most fundamental way, and extends it into an analysis of Dasein. The question we have to ask is not: what is in your experience? but: what constitutes your experience? Heidegger uses Husserl’s method to break through the barriers of a consciousness caught up in the ever-present daily chatter, and attempts to reach a dimension of thinking that he also calls a “fundamental ontology,” but in a different sense than Aristotle’s metaphysics. Heidegger reads Aristotle very carefully, and defines his project not as a “first philosophy” 5 but a “fundamental ontology” that begins with an examination of “Dasein” – our Being-in-the-World. He radicalizes Husserl’s method, and he maintains that since concepts like “‘mind,” “consciousness,” “subject,” “object,” or even “world”, have no experiential basis, they are misleading reifications for a fundamental analysis that probes the correlation between thinking and experience in order to find out what truly constitutes our “Dasein.”

Husserl, who was originally a mathematician, was primarily interested in the nature of necessary truth rather than the problems of life. Philosophy, according to Husserl, seeks certainty, as Descartes did, not empirical facts, as in the natural science approach. Influenced by Descartes, Hume, and Kant, Husserl sought an “Archimedean point” from which to establish such a foundation for all knowledge. Husserl’s enduring interest is focused on the form and necessity of mathematical and philosophical truths. His method aims to develop radically unprejudiced views on the world that allow a rational exploration of the interconnections between phenomena. Following Kant’s concept of a “Transcendental Ego,” Husserl develops a “transcendental phenomenology” as the foundation of all knowledge.

Husserl’s phenomenology is clearly a sophisticated contribution to epistemology, but it is based on questionable assumptions derived from German Idealism. His philosophy is the basis not only for Heidegger, but also for other existentialist investigations of the self, for instance in the work of Jean-Paul Sartre. Husserl’s method has influenced other social sciences, like anthropology.

Heidegger diverts from Husserl also by criticizing the over-emphasis on method and epistemology. If you only sharpen the knife, but not use it enough, you fall short in the task of philosophy. Fundamental ontology has to pursue the question of “what is Being?” and Heidegger’s approach is unique insofar as he suggests a new way to integrate epistemology and ontology. He is considered to be an existentialist only because the starting point of his philosophy requires an understanding of “that being through whom the question of Being comes into being.” He focuses first on human beings who engage in the analysis of their Dasein. What do we find when we begin to analyze our being-in-the-world?. Unlike Husserl and Descartes, Heidegger says that we have a unified experience of being-in-the-world that gets fractured through our own forgetfulness, for instance through social alienation, or by letting technology overtake our lives. His thinking can also be seen as an extension of Gestalt theory, an early 20th Century German project that did not get the same traction as existentialism.

Heidegger is not interested in the mind-body problem, because he starts with a conception of Dasein that views the subject as primordially embedded into its world. But he also does not want to describe the human existence in naturalistic or empirical terms, because from the innocence of the first-person view, what we are in relation to nature remains undetermined. Heidegger purposefully limits himself methodologically and does not talk about consciousness or subjectivity as an isolated phenomenon. Subsequently, he is also not interested in real individualism; he analyses Dasein as generalized and embodied subjectivity.

Because Dasein exists, it is, by its very nature, self-questioning, and cannot be fully described from the outside. The idea of “time” enters the analysis because of the fundamental historicity of existence. Heidegger treats time as the horizon in which our questioning occurs. The consciousness of time enables us to gain the distance necessary to pursue the analysis, and the interpretation of Dasein must also be a historical analysis. He applies this idea to philosophy itself and states that contemplating the history of philosophy becomes integral to philosophy itself. He finds that the history of Western philosophy shows that the question of Being gets covered up or forgotten, and he takes it as his task to reverse the trend: The search for truth becomes an “uncovering.”

The astonishment about the fundamentally self-questioning nature of the human being is common to many philosophers, culminating in Descartes systematic method of doubt. Heidegger accepts that methodical questioning is a starting point, but refuses to accept that it leads us to the construction of terms like “consciousness,” “subjectivity,” or “mind.” Ironically, Heidegger’s conception of Dasein also implies a kind of permanent identity crisis: We continuously want to know ‘what’ or ‘who’ we really are. What complicates the process of discovery even more is the possibility of self-deception, and the erroneousness of self-consciousness. What we consider to be our identity can easily be a false or misinformed conception. Subsequently, Heidegger is also interested in psychiatry, and he reflects on the impact of the social dimension on human existence.

How is authentic existence possible?

From the point of view of a philosopher who engages in Daseins-analysis, the world is no longer a mere object of knowledge, but an array of tasks to be done. It is easy to think of the world and the things that make it up as something that can be known. But Heidegger says we are not first of all “knowers.” We are, instead, primarily engaged in the world, and faced with tasks. This creates a primary social dimension to our existence that philosophers often ignore. Kant or Wittgenstein, for example, describe the world as the totality of objects and states of affairs – but that isn’t obvious to Heidegger, who fundamentally questions the split between theory and practice. The world first appears to us as “equipment,” not as an object of knowledge. For him, the world is knowing how, not knowing what, as in the example of using a hammer in a workshop. The appearance of “things” – even something as basic as a hammer – requires first of all not an object-analysis, but a use-analysis. But when we ask how to use a tool, we also open up the whole context of its use, and we are no longer focused on objects, or tools, by themselves. In this approach, the first intrinsic problem appears in the following way: Bringing a reflective attitude to the task itself can interrupt the very process of doing it. 6

In his later work, Heidegger magnifies this insight into a critique of technology. 7 Technological progress makes us blind towards what Dasein really is: The advance of technology facilitates our view of the world as “‘resource,” but this orientation betrays both our own nature and the nature of our relationship to the world. Furthermore, competition and consumerism diminishes us to a point where we are no longer authentically engaged with the world. Technology makes our lives more convenient, but it also creates a world of blind consumption, and even an option for technological self-destruction. Technology invites us to “fall back” into an inauthentic existence, we submerge into a technologically facilitated mass culture that seems to be social, but its common denominator is loneliness.

He sees our current historical constellation as the final expression of the split between the mind (Descartes: “I am an autonomous thinking thing“) and the body, which is in his view a disastrous development in Western thinking. Descartes’s famous self-conscious subject is a misleading paradigm for human identity, because it suggests that self-knowledge is immediate and transparent. Heidegger tells us that human nature is neither immediate nor transparent, and thus self-recognition requires the hard work of thinking against the temptation to turn outward, create useful tools, and transform everything into a ready-made resource.

If human existence wants to fulfill its possibilities it needs to maintain an “ontological” orientation, that is, to work towards authenticity (“Eigentlichkeit”). This does not have to be a philosophical project. He aims at a relation to existence so that Dasein resonates with its own fundamental questions, and he wants to keep the space for the transcendence of facticity open. Much of his writing is a critique of the closure of the question of Being, and he contrasts the lifestyle that incorporates art and poetry with the pervasiveness of a technological mindset that forces us into an existential state of “fallenness.”

Heidegger’s system has strong religious overtones. He rejects the notion that his Daseinsanalysis is an analysis of ethics. He claims that most of our lives are lived in states of inauthenticity, what he calls in German “das Man,” translatable as the depersonalized “the one” (as in: “one has to pay attention…”). 8 Most of our lives, we are not our genuine selves, we are not authentic but inauthentic, This is not an ethical failure; it is a necessary condition of life. The ordinary self is inauthentic, because it is not individualized, but dark to itself, largely defined by other people. When we describe ourselves, we commonly refer to the roles we play, to the social categories that define us. The ordinary self is the social, comparative self. This may be an unavoidable part of human existence, but it is not our genuine Dasein. In this analysis, Heidegger continues Kierkegaard’s and Nietzsche’s attacks on the “herd mentality” of contemporary society, but he is less extreme in the rejection of everyday social life.

His views on the difficulties in becoming authentic play an important role in existentialist literature. He dramatically announces that we are “thrown into the world,” affirming that life has a necessary dimension of involuntariness and fatalism. To take hold of one’s self, one doesn’t reject society, but resolutely accepts one’s historicity and reasserts the self in traditions and “destiny.” Being authentic requires an adequate recognition and engagement with oneself. Nietzsche distinguishes between master and slave morality, and he clearly prefers the former. Heidegger’s version of the master morality can be found in his description of authenticity. He encourages us to take hold of ourselves, and to face our anxieties within a world we have not chosen for ourselves.

Coming to terms with oneself means to recognize in one’s own life the various ”existential” features of Dasein. Heidegger highlights three: existence, facticity, and fallenness. He also talks about the importance of moods as ways of “tuning” into the world. He suggests that the recognition of our own mortality prompts us to move towards authenticity and to recognize our historicity.

  • Facticity” refers to the facts that characterize our lives, such as physical attributes, social determinations, and so on. In regards to these circumstances, he says that we are “thrown” into a world not of our own choosing. “Historicity” refers to the influence of historical formations on our present conditions, which is not something we can choose, but nevertheless it belongs to us.

  • Existence (Existenz) is essentially “Dasein.” Dasein has no essence other than the fact that it exists. This leads to the slogan that “Existence precedes essence,” which Heidegger adopts from Kierkegaard, and Sartre takes it from Heidegger. 9 Existence is more than facticity, because as Dasein, it has freedom and therefore it has possibilities: Existenz transforms facticity insofar as it allows us to envision our options and our possible futures. The capacity to make choices characterizes human life. In his later philosophy, Heidegger becomes more skeptical about the existential concept of choice. Human life has the unique capability to anticipate the future and to discover for itself the interwoven dimensions of past, present, and future.

  • Fallenness is the·’pre-ontological” way in which Dasein fails to face up to its ontological condition and “falls back” to the common inauthentic existence of every-day-ness. (das Man.) The core of inauthenticity consists of being absorbed by the immediacy of one’s needs, of failing to grasp the connections between one’s past and the possibilities of the future. But fallenness is not the endpoint of human life; giving into it or accepting it would make you stoic and not yet authentic.

  • Our moods are not just transient mental states; they are the emotional effects of being in the world, and through this our existence is disclosing itself to us. Heidegger says our moods are shared. They are not just in our minds, but out there, in the world.

Authentic existence can best be described through contrasting attitudes and experiences. A premature sense of understanding the world can easily lead to a closing of the horizon, and should be broken up by curiosity. Thinking, 10 one of Heidegger’s favorite terms, should be distinguished from instrumental calculations, and accordingly, full speech is not the daily gossip or chatter that surrounds us. These distinctions determine our conscience and give us an awareness of the difference between authentic and inauthentic existence. We cannot help but ask questions about what we are and we feel anxiety about our existence as a whole, which should not be mistaken with fears that have concrete objects. The most dramatic idea in Being and Time is that we all exist as “Beings-unto-death” (Sein-zum-Tode). The recognition of our own mortality strikes so hard because reflection makes it clear that we face a necessary termination of our life, but normally we just ignore it and exist in a state of forgetfulness or denial. Not taking mortality seriously is one of the main elements of “fallenness.” Our mortality prompts us to take hold of ourselves in an authentic “resolution” that affirms our own existence. It also forces us to appreciate our limitations and immerse ourselves in our historical situation with a perspective towards acceptance. The realization that we all live with a death sentence creates a commonality among human beings and allows us to see ourselves and our lives as a unity.

Critical Evaluation

Much was written about Heidegger’s political choices, and in an interview published after his death he tried to clarify his actions. It is unquestionable that being a Nazi was part of his own “Dasein.” He publicly committed himself to National-Socialism (from 1933 to 34), and served as Rector of Freiburg University after Hitler came to power. He was responsible for the firing of Jewish professors, and gave several pro-Nazi speeches. Heidegger never repudiated National-Socialism, and there are indications that he mourned its failure. Reconciling his life to his philosophy is a problem. Nietzsche suggested that in order to understand a philosophical approach, one must understand the philosopher – only then does a full picture emerge. Heidegger’s philosophical views are certainly connected with his personal and political commitments, and one should not follow in Heidegger’s footsteps without considering his political positions.

Nevertheless, Heidegger’s work strongly influenced 20th century philosophy. In the following, I will only mention a few critical voices.

  1. Early criticism came already from Husserl, Heidegger’s teacher. He observed that the program in Being and Time remains nothing but a promise. Heidegger claimed to do ontology, but he only did so in the beginning pages of the book. Husserl states that since Heidegger had not much to contribute to an ontology independent of human existence, he changed the terms of the basic question and focused on “Dasein,” thereby reducing phenomenology to philosophical anthropology.

  2. Hegel-influenced Marxist thinkers, especially György Lukács and the Frankfurt School, noted that the writings are obscure, and the correspondence between the style and the content of his philosophy resonates with a deep German desire for irrationalism that produced National-Socialism as well.

  3. In some ways, Heidegger and Frankfurt School thinkers pose very similar questions, and both are critical to the technological mass culture of early 20th century and its inhumane effects. Since Heidegger rejects Marx, his critique does not use political-economic theory. Instead, he affirms nationalist traditions and uses the mythological unity of “Dasein” to defend a traditional way of life against the social transformations of modernity and the onslaught of global technology. A good example for the tension between the schools is Herbert Marcuse, who was first a Heidegger student before he became associated with the Frankfurt School. He tried to synthesize Hegelian Marxism and Heidegger’s phenomenology, but later abandoned the project and rejected Heidegger’s thought as “false concreteness” and “revolutionary conservatism.”

  4. Theodor Adorno wrote an extended critique of Heidegger’s work and his use of language, entitled “The Jargon of Authenticity ” (originally published in 1964.) He argues that Heidegger’s use of language is unreflected, his work is philosophically useless and simply promotes a form of fascist German ideology. But this criticism did not stop students to follow in Heidegger’s footsteps. In 1985, Jürgen Habermas repeated the criticism, and questioned Heidegger’s influence on French philosophy, especially postmodernism, in Philosophical Discourse of Modernity.

  5. Heidegger’s writings are often exuberant, and redundant to the point of meaninglessness. It conveys the intensity of the author’s personal search, and makes for dramatic writing without substance. 11 Heidegger accepts obscurity as a philosophical strategy. He argues that clarity of writing is suicide for philosophy: “…those in the crossing must in the end know what is mistaken by all urging for intelligibility: that every thinking of being, all philosophy, can never be confirmed by “facts,” i.e., by beings. Making itself intelligible is suicide for philosophy. Those who idolize “facts” never notice that their idols only shine in a borrowed light. They are also meant not to notice this; for thereupon they would have to be at a loss and therefore useless. But idolizers and idols are used wherever gods are in flight and so announce their nearness.” 12 One wonders whether these “gods in flight” have a mission? And, why is the insistence on facts and clarity labeled as “idolization?”

  6. Heidegger’s philosophy has also been criticized by analytic and Anglo-Saxon philosophers. Rudolf Carnap accuses Heidegger of offering an “illusory” ontology, and criticizes him for committing the fallacy of reification and for wrongly dismissing the logical treatment of language. According to Carnap, this can only lead to “nonsensical pseudo-propositions.” In a similar tone, the British logical positivist A. J. Ayer also criticizes Heidegger’s philosophy. In Ayer’s view, Heidegger proposes vast, overarching theories regarding existence, which are completely unverifiable through empirical demonstration and logical analysis. For Ayer, this sort of philosophy is a poisonous strain in modern thought. He considered Heidegger to be the worst example of pseudo-philosophy, and according to Ayer, the work is entirely useless.

  7. Bertrand Russell wrote: “Highly eccentric in its terminology, his philosophy is extremely obscure. One cannot help suspecting that language is here running riot. An interesting point in his speculations is the insistence that nothingness is something positive. As with much else in Existentialism, this is a psychological observation made to pass for logic.” 13

  8. These positive and negative analytic evaluations have been collected in Michael Murray (ed.), Heidegger and Modern Philosophy: Critical Essays (Yale University Press, 1978). Since then, Heidegger’s reputation within English-language philosophy has slightly improved through the efforts of Hubert Dreyfus, Richard Rorty, and a recent generation of analytically oriented scholars who are also interested in phenomenology. Rorty claims that Heidegger’s approach to philosophy in the first half of his career has much in common with that of the latter-day Ludwig Wittgenstein. However, Rorty also asserts that what Heidegger has constructed in his writings is a myth of being rather than an account of it.

  9. Contemporary European reception: Even though Heidegger is considered by many observers to be the most influential philosopher of the 20th century in continental philosophy, aspects of his work have been criticised even by those who acknowledge this influence, such as Hans-Georg Gadamer and Jacques Derrida. Some questions raised about Heidegger’s philosophy include the priority of ontology, the status of animals, the nature of the religious, and his neglect of ethics (Levinas). Others, like Merleau-Ponty, complain about his treatment of the body, or his neglect of the sexual difference (Luce Irigaray).

  10. Levinas’ relation to Heidegger is interesting: Both had Husserl as their teacher, and originally, Levinas was deeply influenced by Heidegger’s work. Later, however, Levinas condemned Heidegger’s involvement with National Socialism, and stated: “One can forgive many Germans, but there are some Germans it is difficult to forgive. It is difficult to forgive Heidegger.” Levinas, who was a devout Jew, contrasts the infinity of the good beyond being with Heidegger’s immanence and totality of ontology.

© 2016 Jurgen Braungardt. All rights reserved.


  1. From My Way to Phenomenology, published in 1963.

  2. Heidegger writes in Being and Time: “The question of Being aims… at ascertaining the a priori conditions not only for the possibility of the sciences which examine beings as beings of such and such a type, and, in doing so, already operate with an understanding of Being, but also for the possibility of those ontologies themselves which are prior to the ontical sciences and which provide their foundations. Basically, all ontology, no matter how rich and firmly compacted a system of categories it has at its disposal, remains blind and perverted from its ownmost aim, if it has not first adequately clarified the meaning of Being, and conceived this clarification as its fundamental task. (Being and Time 3: 31)

  3. Being-in-the-world: A Commentary on Heidegger’s Being and Time, División I By Hubert L. Dreyfus, 1990. p 3

  4. He also accepts non-intentional states of consciousness, for instance the experience of pain.

  5. First philosophy, or Metaphysics, in Aristotle: Metaphysics 6.1, 1026a27–31

  6. In recent years, Heidegger’s tool analysis has been used to develop an object-oriented ontology or “ontography” in the writings of Graham Harman, in: The Quadruple Object, 2010.

  7. “The Question concerning Technology,” 1949.

  8. Here is a quote from Being and Time: “By ‘Others’ we do not mean everyone else but me—those over against whom the ‘I’ stands out. They are rather those from whom, for the most part, one does not distinguish oneself—those among whom one is too… By reason of this with-like Being-in-the-world, the world is always one that I share with Others.” (Being and Time 26: 154–5)

  9. Sartre writes in Being and Nothingness (1943): “Now freedom has no essence. It is not subject to any logical necessity; we must say of it what Heidegger said of the Dasein in general: ‘In it existence precedes and commands essence.‘” In Being and Time, Heidegger writes: “The ‘essence’ of human-being lies in its existence.” (“Das ‘Wesen’ des Daseins liegt in seiner Existenz”, Sein und Zeit, p. 42.)

  10. Sometimes he correlates the German word “denken” with “danken,” like thinking/thanking)

  11. Consider this example from the 1964 text The End of Philosophy and the Task of Thinking. “Metaphysics thinks beings as being in the manner of representational thinking that gives reasons. For since the beginning of philosophy and with that beginning, the Being of beings has showed itself as the ground (arche, aition, principle). The ground is that from which beings as such are what they are in their becoming, perishing, and persisting as something that can be known, handled, and worked upon. As the ground, Being brings beings to their actual presencing. The ground shows itself as presence. The present of presence consists in the fact that it brings what is present each in its own way to presence. In accordance with the actual kind of presence, the ground has the character of grounding as the ontic causation of the real, as the transcendental making possible of the objectivity of objects, as the dialectical mediation of the movement of the absolute Spirit and of the historical process of production, as the will to power positing values. What characterizes metaphysical thinking that grounds the ground for beings is the fact that metaphysical thinking, starting from what is present, represents it in its presence and thus exhibits it as grounded by its ground.” What does it all mean?

  12. Martin Heidegger, Contributions to Philosophy (From Enowning) (Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1999), p. 307

  13. Bertrand Russell, Wisdom of the West (New York: Crescent Books, 1989), p. 303.