Saturday, September 4, 2010

Martin Heidegger's Sein und Zeit

I was arguing with someone in the HuffPo readers' comments about Sam Harris,who seems to be the English-speaking world's third-most prominent spokesman for atheism currently, behind Richard Dawkinsand Christopher Hitchens.Dawkins is someone I can proudly call a spokesman of a movement to which I belong, even if I don't choose to call that movement "New Atheism." (PS, 23. September 2015: I really should have read some of Dawkins' writing on religion before I wrote that. I had read some of his work on biology and mistakenly assumed that his work on religion must be just as good. Dawkins really should stick to biology; on the subject on religion he's a dingbat just like Hitch and Harris and all the other New Atheists.) (I just call it atheism. No biggie, but the "New" part seems somewhat silly to me.) (PS, 23. September 2015: I now call THEM New Atheists, and am attempting to show that they by no means represent all atheists.) I have referred to Hitchins as a dingbat, and a drunken dingbat, and similar things, but Lordy -- so to speak -- he's so much more impressive than this guy Harris. Harris is on a kick now about something he calls the moral landscape. Which is just utilitarianism. Which was new in the mid-19th century when John Stuart Millwas presenting it for the first time. New, but unimpressive. Easily batted aside several decades later by Nietzsche'sanalysis of morality, or more accurately, of moralities. Nietzsche pointed out that morality is always a subjective thing, and that was pretty much that for utilitarianism. Or so a sensible person could've been forgiven for supposing. But Lordy -- so to speak -- look at Harris go!

I was arguing with someone about Harris. A couple of others were, too, but, it seemed, fewer than with Harris' previous HuffPo article. Perhaps they found it futile quicker than I. Perhaps they are wiser than I. I really should stop this squabbling on the Internet -- I just get all dirty, and the pigs have all of the fun. I and a couple of others were pleading: read Nietzsche. Read Schopenhauer. Read Sartre.This ground has been covered, and much better than Harris is doing it. At one point, as I gradually gave up on the squabble, someone called Schopenhauer an obscurantist. Schopenhauer?! If anyone at all in the Western canon tells it like it smells, it is Arthur Schopenhauer. He is a model of clarity and frankness. I was about to respond in this vein when it occurred to me that it would be far more enjoyable to read some Schopenhauer than to argue with this person about him. So I did. I have the five-volume Suhrkamp Taschenbuch Wissenschaft edition,st w 661 through 665. A German friend of mine, like me not an academic, but like me someone who reads widely and with great involvement things which are probably mostly read by academics, became very upset when he heard that I had this edition. In his opinion it is a very bad edition. I don't know what he's talking about, but I mention his opinion because I respect it.

Someone else who was arguing in my anti-Harris vein pleaded with HuffPo's readers to read Heidegger. It had been a long time since I'd attempted to read Heidegger, but I decided to finally buy my own copy of Sein Und Zeit.Sein und Zeit is considered to be Martin Heidegger's masterpiece, his Hauptwerk, his chef d'ouvre. A recent poll of philosophers as to the most significant works of philosophy published in the twentieth century placed Sein und Zeit second, sandwiched between works of Ludwig Wittgensteinat first and third. I had tried years ago to read this and several others of Heidegger's works, but quickly gave up, utterly bewildered.

This time, to my surprise, I was only a little bewildered, and seemed to understand some of what Heidegger was saying. It probably helps that my Greek is now weak, as opposed to non-existent back then. Also, in the meantime I had read some Adorno,putting the German-reading part of my brain through some serious calisthenics.

I am enjoying reading Heidegger. This is something I really thought I might never say. And I really very rarely say "never" when it comes to my ability to read anything. Anything.

I wrote down the name of every author mentioned by Heidegger in Sein und Zeit. There are several dozen of them. He included the first initals of some authors who in the meantime -- Sein und Zeit was first published in 1927 -- have become famous enough that they are usually referred to just by their last names, as are Aristotle and Heidegger. For instance, Heidegger made repeated reference to W. Dilthey and K. Jaspers, who these days are usually referred to as Diltheyand Jaspers.On the other hand, Heidegger referred to a scholastic, Suarez, and his work, the disputationes metaphysicae, and I had to look this Suarez up in order to learn that Francisco Suárez was meant, who lived from 1548 to 1617, and that during Suárez' time scholasticism experienced a resurgence. Yikes! I had had no idea.

Most often named are Platoand Aristotle.Named, and quoted in Greek, quotations which Heidegger does not always translate. Heidegger says the question of the nature of being has essentially been dropped since classical Greece. That the concept of being is at once the most universal and the most mysterious. That's within the first couple of pages. I can't tell you much more right now. My mind is reeling, but in a rather pleasant way.

Heidegger was involved with the Nazis. But it seems pretty clear that he saw his relationship to the Nazis as similar to a lion tamer's to his lions, that he did not believe in them or their ideals, but was trying to manipulate them, as opposed to simply emigrating or surrendering his academic post to a party member.

Pretty clear. Not absolutely crystal-clear. After World War II Hannah Arendtspoke up for him, but Karl Jaspers spoke against him. Paul Celanmet with him. I don't have a last word here.

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