German philosopher Heidegger is widely recognized as a towering thinker of the twentieth century. Postmodernist thinker Michel Foucault said “Heidegger has always been for me the essential philosopher … . My whole philosophical development was determined by my reading of Heidegger.” Similarly, postmodernist Richard Rorty named Heidegger, John Dewey, and Ludwig Wittgenstein as the three philosophers most influential on his own thinking.
- Heidegger’s essay was first delivered as his inaugural lecture at the University of Freiburg in 1929, where he had become full professor. It pre-dates by four years the coming to power of Adolf Hitler and the National Socialists, whereupon Heidegger formally joined the Nazi Party. The connection between Heidegger’s philosophy and politics is thus a matter of importance and controversy.
- Thematically, his essay moves from: (1) a characterization of metaphysics that is Aristotelian ontologically but Platonic/mystic epistemologically, to (2) a consideration of the linguistic paradoxes of discussing Being and Nothing, which leads to (3) his rejecting or setting aside reason and logic as a means of doing philosophy, to 4) the use of emotions such as boredom and dread to access Being and Nothing, to (5) a discussion of the human being/Da-sein as central to this enterprise, to (6) an account of Being and Nothing that rejects the scientific account and affirms the Judeo-Christian/Hegelian one, and, finally, (7) a discussion of Being/Nothing’s ethical demands upon us for sacrifice.
- Heidegger is not a postmodernist but a last step to postmodernism. Heidegger does seem frequently to use linguistic sleight of hand for its own sake and to discredit reason. Those are key precursors to, for example, Jacques Derrida’s deconstruction.
- He also identifies his enemy as the entire Western tradition, which is a precursor to the postmodernists’ setting aside all previous philosophy and, in activist mode, chanting “Hey! Ho! Western Civ has got to go!”
- Heidegger makes emotions—especially negative emotions of anxiety and fear—especially revelatory. That is a precursor to many postmodernists’ dark psychologies and their focus on the disturbed, marginalized, and bizarre.
- Even so, Heidegger is doing metaphysics—speaking of a truth out there that we must seek or let find us—while postmodernists are anti-realists, holding that it is meaningless to speak of truths out there or of a language that could capture them.
- And Heidegger speaks of the deep truth of Being as mysterious but ultimately potent, while for most postmodernists all is surface or unmasked as superficial.
Read Heidegger’s “What Is Metaphysics?” here. See the CyberSeminar discussion of Heidegger here. Summary by Stephen Hicks, 2020.
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