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TWENTIETH CENTURY PHILOSOPHY: Intellectual Heroes and Key Themes. LECTURES. The limits of language. Death and authenticity. The great community. Making differences. Social hope. Communicative rationality. DEATH AND AUTHENTICITY. 1. THE HORIZON OF THE BLACK FOREST What is thinking?

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  • The limits of language.
  • Death and authenticity.
  • The great community.
  • Making differences.
  • Social hope.
  • Communicative rationality.

What is thinking?


How to conceive of human existence?


What obstructs ascertaining the truth?

martin heidegger


  • 1889: born September 26, in Meßkirch (Germany).
  • 1909-1911: Studies theology in Freiburg.
  • 1911-1913: Studies Philosophy, humanities and natural sciences in Freiburg.
  • 1913: Graduated with a dissertation on judgement in psychologism.
  • 1915: Habilitation thesis on Duns Scotus.
  • 1922: Professor at the University of Marburg.
  • 1928: Professor at the University of Freiburg.
  • 1933-1934: Rector of the University of Freiburg.
  • 1946-1949: Prohibition to teach because of his engagement with the Nazi-regime.
  • 1951-1967: Honorary Professor.
  • 1976: Died May 26, in Freiburg.
major works
  • Sein und Zeit (1927).
  • Was ist Metaphysik? (1929).
  • Beiträge zur Philosophie (Vom Ereignis) (1936-1938).
  • Vom Wesen der Wahrheit (1943).
  • Über den Humanismus (1949).
  • Holzwege (1950).
  • Vorträge und Aufsätze (1954).
  • Was heißt Denken (1954).
  • Identität und Differenz (1957).
  • Unterwegs zur Sprache (1959).
  • Nietzsche I/II (1961).
  • Wegmarken (1967).
  • Zur Sache des Denkens (1969).
the spirit of the age
  • Heidegger was a child of his age.
  • The spirit of the age in which he grew up as a philosopher was very much influenced by:

1. Neo-Kantianism (Rickert, Hartmann).

2. Phenomenology (Husserl).

3. Hermeneutics (Dilthey).

4. Philosophy of the will (Nietzsche).

5. Philosophy of life (Bergson).

on the road
  • The road (question) is more interesting than its end (answer).
  • Some titels of his work indicate that: ‘Holzwege’ , ‘Der Feldweg’, ‘Unterwegs zur Sprache’ and ‘Wegmarken’.
  • Philosophers are often triggered to think when they get off the track.
  • This is the way to broaden one’s horizon.
  • Heidegger argues in his essay ‘Was heißt denken?’ that his way of thinking is different from that of a scientist, because it cannot be utilized immediately.
  • Thinking implies giving the object that is thought about its dignity (back).
  • While one is thinking the being gets its language (“Im Denken [kommt] das Sein zur Sprache”).
  • However, the language of metaphysics conceals the being and should therefore be criticized.
  • In his essay ‘Über den Humanismus’ (1949) Heidegger tries to get beyond a technical interpretation of thinking > to think implies to leave the being as it is (“Sie läßt das Sein – sein”.
the end of philosophy
  • In a lecture Heidegger proclaims ‘The end of philosophy’ > philosophy doesn’t cease to exist, but will have a new task.
  • Metaphysics – always in search of foundations – ceases to exist, because of the emergence of scientific thought, i.e. an instrumental way of thinking.
  • Philosophy should give expression to the clearance (Lichtung) of being.
  • Its focus is the truth in the sense of aletheia, i.e. unconcealedness or unhiddenness (Unverborgenheit).
  • Philosophy as the criticism of metaphysics and a new way of thinking.
style of philosophy
  • One will find some aspects of Heidegger’s style of philosophy in his early work as well as in his later work.
  • Four aspects are significant:

1. Everyday life and its language are the point of departures for his philosophy.

2. The texts are rather hermetic.

3. The use of a lot of neologisms.

4. To make great play of the original meanings of words.

  • A discontinuity in style > the later work is more evocative (influenced by poetry).
heuristic value
  • Existentialism (Jean-Paul Sartre amongst others).
  • Post-Structuralism (Michel Foucault amongst others).
  • Deconstructivism (Jacques Derrida amongst others).
  • Hermeneutics (Hans-Georg Gadamer amongst others).
  • Neo-Marxism (Herbert Marcuse amongst others ).
  • Theology (Rudolf Boltmann amongst others).
  • Literary Criticism (Paul de Man amongst others).
  • Psychiatry (Ludwig Binswanger amongst others).
  • Literature (Botho Strauß amongst others).
  • Ludwig Wittgenstein questions in his “Philosophical Investigations” the meaning of concepts like time, and argues that people know it when no one asks them, but no longer know it when they are supposed to give an account of it.
  • “Augustine says in the Confessions "quid est ergo tempus? si nemo ex me quaerat scio; si quaerenti explicare velim, nescio".—This could not be said about a question of natural science ("What is the specific gravity of hydrogen?" for instance). Something that we know when no one asks us, but no longer know when we are supposed to give an account of it, is something that we need to remind ourselves of. (PI 89)
  • What is self-evident is not often questioned.
  • Heidegger argues that the meaning of being (Sinn des Seins) is not seriously questioned since the ancient Greeks.
  • Central question of ‘Sein und Zeit’: what is the meaning of being?
  • Answer: “…Time as the possible horizon for any understanding whatsoever of being.”
  • Always when we use the word ‘Being’ we are involved in a temporal determination.
reclaiming the question of being
  • Heidegger is concerned with the meaning of being as such, rather than with the meaning of a specific being.
  • He wants to know what being ‘is’ and not what the sense is of what’s it all about (for instance figuring out why there is something rather than nothing).
  • Within philosophy the question of being has come to be forgotten.
  • There are three reasons for this ‘forgetfulness of being’ (Seinsvergessenheit):

1. ‘Being’ is the most general concept of all concepts.

2. Therefore it is indefinable.

3. It is a self-evident concept.

  • “Thus to retrieve the question of being means first of all to work out adequately the formulation of the question”.
ontological difference
  • Heidegger speaks of the ontological difference when he distinguishes entities (Seiendes) from being (Sein).
  • Entities > anything that in any sense is.
  • Question: what is it for something to be?
  • So the being of entities is not itself an entity!
  • Being > that what determines entities as entities.
  • Heidegger distinguishes three elements when he discusses the question of being:

1. Being.

2. Da-sein

3. The meaning of being.

  • These elements are the starting point of Heidegger’s questioning.
  • In regard to any question Heidegger makes a distinction between:

1. What is asked about (das Gefragte) > being on the basis of which entities are understood.

2. What is questioned (das Befragte) > Da-sein.

3. Which is to be ascertained by the asking (das Erfragte) > the meaning of being that should be articulated with concepts that are different form those used to describe entities.

  • Project of ‘Sein und Zeit’ > in order to get access to 1 and answer 3 one has to scrutinize ‘Da-sein’ > “This being which we ourselves in each case are and which includes inquiry among the possibilities of its being.”
fundamental ontology
  • The aim of Heidegger is to revitalise ontology.
  • Ontology > the study of being.
  • Ontical > (empirical) enquiry that is concerned with entities (das Seiende).
  • Ontological > (a priori) enquiry that is concerned with the being of entities (das Sein).
  • Fundamental ontology > the study of being as such.
  • In Heidegger’s case fundamental ontology is primarely the analysis of Da-sein.
being there
  • With the concept Dasein Heidegger wants to draw the attention on both the human being and being human.
  • Da-sein > being-there.
  • The ‘there’ (Da) of ‘being-there’ refers to the disclosedness of Dasein to the Dasein.
  • Dasein it ontically nearest to itself and ontologically farthest away.
  • Dasein is distinguished from other entities, because it includes an understanding of being.
  • “The meaning of the being that being we call Dasein proves to be temporality [Zeitlichkeit]”.
  • In order to distinguish Da-sein as a mode of being from other modes of being Heidegger introduces the concept existence.
  • Existence > the being of the entity called Da-sein.
  • Heidegger is interested in the basic structures of Dasein > existentials.
  • A basic existental is being-in-the-world (in-der-Welt-sein) > an engaged having-to-with-things.
  • Heidegger tries to figure out what being-in-the-world means via the phenomenological method.
the phenomenological method
  • Heidegger’s enquiry is based upon the phenomenological method of Husserl.
  • The maxim of this method: “To the things themselves.”
  • The concept of phenomenon > that what shows itself in itself.
  • The concept of logos > the discourse that makes manifest what one is talking about in one’s discourse.
  • Phenomenology > “…to let what shows itself be seen from itself, just as it shows itself from itself.”
  • Whereas for Husserl the object of phenomenological research is consciousness, for Heidegger it is being.
  • Phenomenological description > hermeneutics, i.e. the art of interpretation.
grasping and determining da sein as a whole
  • Is the whole of Dasein accessible at all in its being?
  • The impossibility of experiencing Dasein ontically as an existing whole.
  • The death of other persons doesn’t give us access to the wholeness of Dasein.
  • Death > the lost of the being of the there.
  • It makes an end to any interpretation and articulation.
outstanding ending and totality
  • Heidegger presents three theses:

1. As long as Da-sein is, a not-yet belongs to it, something that is constantly outstanding.

2. The coming-to-its-end of what is not-yet-at-an-end has the character of no-longer-being-there.

3. Coming-to-an-end implies a mode of being in which the actual Da-sein absolutely cannot be represented by someone else.

  • The theses correspond to: outstanding, ending and totality.
  • “The ending that we have in view when we speak of death, does not signify a being-at-an-end of Da-sein, but rather a being toward the end of this being. Death is a way to be that Dasein takes over as soon as it is.”
being toward death and the everdayness of da sein
  • Death reveals Dasein as a field of possibilities that can be realized.
  • “With death, Da-sein stands before itself in its own most potentiality-of-being. In this possibility, Da-sein is concerned about its being-in-the world absolutely.”
  • The Dasein is thrown into this possibility.
  • This thrownness (Geworfenheit) reveals itself via anxieties.
  • The idle talk (das Gerede) in everyday life doesn’t reveal what being-toward-death means.
  • In the everyday life we try to get rid of the death.
  • We need a courageous attitude towards death.
the theoretical practice of death
  • A concentration on specific moods and states of mind, like anxiety, clarifies the existential structure of Dasein.
  • Being-toward-death > with death, Da-sein stands before itself in its own most potentiality-of-being.
  • This possibility shows that Da-sein is concerned about its being-in-the-world.
  • The Dasein is thrown into this possibility.
to exist inauthetnically
  • Dasein is always ‘ahead of itself’ (sich voraus) > projects itself onto possibilities of existence.
  • Authenticity is to be oneself, i.e. to choose consciously for certain possibilities of existence.
  • To exist inauthentically > the possibilities of existence are determined by the One or They (das Man).
  • For instance, people think, feel, do and judge as one has to think, feel, do and judge or they are thinking, feeling, doing and judging.
  • Heidegger states that conscience is the call to authenticity.
  • “Conscience gives us something to understand, it discloses.”
  • Authenticity implies a specific mode of comportment towards death.
  • Concerning the work of Heidegger scholars often refer to discontinuities (Kehre) in content and style.
  • Till ± 1935: analysis of Dasein.
  • After ± 1935: analysis of being via an analysis of the presocratic philosophers, Nietzsche and literature.
  • Till ± 1935: more or less a classical philosophical style mixed with an analysis of everyday experiences.
  • After ± 1935: evocative style with an analysis of literature and technology.
new paths
  • Truth is not a question of the logos, i.e. making a judgment, but a question of being.
  • Aletheia > that what is not hidden.
  • This concept refers to two things:

1. The being shows itself.

2. Activity of the human being > deconstruction of the way we think.

  • After the deconstruction its easier for the being to show itself.
forgetfulness of being
  • The whole history of philosophy hides the being > forgetfulness of being.
  • Therefore philosophers have to deconstruct this history.
  • Philosophy is in need of a new kind of language.
  • Someone like Hölderlin provides such a language.
the truth of art
  • In his famous essay ‘Der Ursprung des Kunstwerks’ (1935/36) Heidegger emphasizes the truth-function of art > “The nature of art would then be this: the truth of beings setting itself to work””
  • Good art is responsible for the disclosure of the world (Welterschließung).
  • When Heidegger reflects on art he criticizes the instrumental reason that dominates modern culture.
  • Technology embodies instrumental reason.
  • Art can transcend instrumental reason, because it opens up and sets up a world.
  • The world of science and technology is already opened.
showing the truth
  • What kind of thing is a work of art?
  • Aesthetics perceives them mainly as specific things.
  • Heidegger doesn’t deny that art works are things, but argues that the focus should be on their disclosure of the world.
  • Art works present the occurrence of the truth (“ein Geschehen der Wahrheit am Werk”) as this painting of Van Gogh show > they tell the truth about the life of peasants.
beyond the subject object model
  • Philosophy is preoccupied with control.
  • The reason is the subject-object model of philosophy.
  • Metaphysics has a theological element: ontotheology.
  • The technological age is also preoccupied by this metaphysical way of thinking.
  • The correct attitude: Gelassenheit (stay cool) > accept to a certain extent your fate.

1. Martin Heidegger, Sein und Zeit [translations in several languages].

2. Martin Heidegger, Die Wahrheit und die Kunst [translations in several languages].

3. Rüdiger Safranski, Ein Meister aus Deutschland. Heidegger und seine Zeit [translations in several languages].