Friday, March 1, 2013

Martin Heidegger...

...was either an anti-Semite or a cynical opportunist. He was certainly a coward.

"Hitler's Superman"

As in the case of Wagner, Heidegger presents a troublesome phenomenon: the greatness of works in contrast to the repulsiveness of character.


  1. Popper felt he had philosophical disagreements with Husserl, but found him very challenging – I guess. But he really despised Heidegger.

    A similar relationship existed perhaps between Schopenhauer and Hegel – both who claimed to have been followers of Kant.

    But why read Heidegger when we have the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita. Those books blow me away ... even the gnostic Gospels are pretty neat in that regards. I love the Gospel of Thomas:

    "If those who lead you say, 'See, the Kingdom is
    in the sky,' then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they
    say to you, 'It is in the sea,' then the fish will precede you.
    Rather, the Kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you.
    When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known, and
    you will realize that it is you who are the sons of the living
    Father. But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty
    and it is you who are that poverty."

    I don't really know what that means, and I don't like the patriarchal emphasis – but I very much like the way it posits heaven as a sort of state of enlightenment. This fascinates me.

    Of course, I for one don't think we can ever fully understand even ourselves. It's a sort of on going process.

  2. Popper's antipathy to Heidegger doesn't make much of an impression on me. From what I've read of Popper, my opinion is that he was not in the same league as Heidegger, not on the same scale. I divide philosophy into those with large philosophical imaginations -- Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Heidegger -- and those of a more instrumental, mechanistic mode of thought.

    Why read Heidegger? He gave us indispensable language for housing certain concepts -- Being and beings, concern, unconcealment, etc. As diffuse as many of his neologisms seem, they are ways of pointing to things deeper than the Upanishads and the Bhagavid Gita.

    I don't agree with all of Heidegger's thought nor do I understand it all. He seems to get caught in a few paradoxes (as did Schopenhauer and Nietzsche). But he did hit on a few things that are amazing to me, that gave language to a few things I had independently surmised or suspected. From Heidegger's ideas, Sartre had a kind of negative epiphany (Nausea). But his reaction to the infinite horror of facticity and Heidegger's more disinterested posture toward Being are both ways of thinking that peel back the screen of mere phenomena and mere functional modalities of idea.

    But...I'm weary of such stuff nowadays. Other traumas take center stage.

  3. Those who follow the more instrumental, mechanistic mode of thought ... the positivists, were chock full of certainty and cocksuredness that they had discovered how with simple logic and observation they could uncover the deepest secrets of the world.

    Heidegger has clearly taught some people some things that they regard as being of great profundity. Stuff about being, time, and existence. I agree the positivists would have rejected that sort of stuff, their deep profundity was of a different brand.

    Popper has merely taught me
    that I don't know
    anything at all, not really;
    and so I should keep questioning.

    Of course, I should add by way of correction that Popper wasn't a positivist – anymore than he was a murderer or a wife beater.

    I do think that from an Asian perspective, the more one talks about being, the less one is presumed to know about it. At least in some ways, that strikes me as sensible.

  4. But to not attempt a talking about Being -- a questioning of Being -- seems strange to me. It is the deepest mystery, and we are disposed to be curious creatures.

    Granted, the Asian perspective appears to be a poised and stoical one. But for the last 15 or 20 years, I've begun to be privately skeptical toward such apparent "wisdom" and attitude. I privately suspect it as being a subtle form of nihilism.

  5. By the way: it's been several years, but I enjoyed reading the Bhagavid Gita. And parts of the Upanishads are profound.

    But being a Westerner, I find that Heidegger gives me more "tangible" access to a possible philosophy of Being.

    Also by the way: Heidegger had some cool stuff to say about poetry:

    "The poetic character of thinking is still covered over. But a poetry which thinks is in truth the landscape of being.

    The poem...[is] a vortex that snatches us away. Not gradually, but...suddenly... We are forcefully drawn into a conversation."

    - Heidegger

  6. I've spent the last few days reading as much as possible on this ...

    Look at this:

    The distance from A to B is the same as C to D.

    But we don't see it that way. We see A to B as being longer. I don't know why.

    A poet can reveal something about the way we experience the world that can be exceptionally powerful and revealing. But it reveals something about us – our soul, but not *necessarily* about the world. To me that's the power of poetry.

    I think you are reading Heidegger as a poet. He was not.

    Hitler failed Heidegger, not he Hitler. It seems clear he was caught up in the Nazi movement, and even if he disagreed with some of he particulars, he thought it was an important historical movement. He initially saw it as a fulfillment of his philosophy.

    Popper, of course, was busy fleeing Austria so as not to end up in a concentration camp.

    The Tao Te Ching is pretty life affirming, I think. I read it as a poem, perhaps I shouldn't, but that is how I read it. I suppose I read most religious texts that way, I forget how serious some people take these texts. I suppose I need to think about this …

    The Tao Te Ching:

    Chapter 20 is nice. I am reading Heidegger and about Heidegger now, but I find myself mostly unhappy with him, too frustrated by the reality of his ideas to want to be amused by the poetry inherent in them.

    You might find this a bit harsh, but I think there's a lot of truth here:

  7. I've been ill the last few days, so won't be able to reply right now in the manner your comment deserves. I'll try to later.

    For now, I'll just say this about Heidegger: despite the many problems with his thinking (some of which you point out), for me he hit on an important main thing; he pointed out how Plato got Being wrong and thus put the whole of metaphysics on a dubious foundation; he pointed out how, for Plato, Being was basically another being, a something with attributes (perfection, etc.), a something about which one might speak.

    Heidegger "recovered" the pre-Socratic startlement about how Being as such is not commensurate with any form of being per se. It is the unconcealment of beings, the possibility of presence. It can't be spoken, only pointed toward indirectly or poetically.

    I think that is probably not something he spent most of his time writing about. But that liminal notion has had a profound affect on me, on the way I approach philosophy in general.

    And yes, of course, there is something mystical about his notion, whether he would have admitted it or not. As Wittgenstein has said -- the fact that reality is at all is mystical.

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  9. I'll think about this, Tim. Thanks.

    It's worth noting that Popper's first volume of _The Open Society and Its Enemies_ is nothing but a sustained attack on Plato. You seem to regard Popper as a positivist, but his views also completely undermine the positivist viewpoint.

    If we look at a hammer, we don't really see an object qua object, we see a hammer in terms of what we'll do with it. While it might not be readily apparent, I would take this to be the case with even ordinary objects, rocks, trees … all these images are impregnated with intentionality. I mean, I guess that's the case – that a metaphysical viewpoint I agree with.

    Moreover, think about this. Newton was not at all the image of a perfect scientist. He was full of various passions, some of them quite dubious. For example, he really went out of his way to hurt Leibniz reputation. He was immensely jealous of Leibniz's version of calculous. Leibniz suffered greatly and unnecessarily as a human being because this jealousy. Not only this but Newton was a religious fanatic of sorts, but of his own daft variety. Despite its illegality and bad reputation for years Newton secretly practiced alchemy. Of course, after his theory of universal gravitation – he was widely praised as the ideal scientist. Philosophers argued he'd applied the scientific method or their version of it and so on and so forth. But that's sheer fantasy …

    But I think we can say the following now about Newton's theory. There are well accepted observations that can be explained by Einstein's theory of gravitation, but conflict with Newton's. In that sense, if we accept these observations, we're compelled to regard Newton's theory as wrong.

    So what was Newton's theory then? In some sense, I would say it was just a poem. Einstein when asked where his own theory came from has emphatically stated his *imagination*.

    So in this sense, poetry – taken in a very broad sense of the word – is primary. Positivists would have one believe that these theories emerge from careful observation. That's utterly ludicrous.

    Now, it will take me some time to study this, but I would guess that Heidegger doesn't entirely reject the positivist view. Instead, he merely thinks it isn't sufficient for the totality of philosophy. He thinks the positivists view is okay for science qua science, but *not* for the totality of our humanity. That is we need more.

    *If* I'm right about that, then Heidegger is failing to see that even science is poetry. To put it in crude and simple terms, I'm concerned he might be saying *science* is okay in its proper role, but we need poetry, too. But science *is* poetry.

    What Popper manages to accomplish is to argue basically that science *is* poetry, but this isn't contrary to or in opposition to *reason* or logic – as those only come into play *after* the creation has taken place. Logic does't lead you anywhere unless you already have some poetry to talk about. In that sense, it's empty.

    For example:
    "all swans is white." Why believe that? Who said that? What's that all about? We don't know. It's a poem.

    "Look, there's a black swan." What do you mean? What is black? What's a swan? We don't know. It's a poem.

    But we recognize on some level the two poems above are incompatible. We have to choose here. We can't entirely accept both poems. That's the birth of science. That's how we learn. No matter what startling clarity this or that poem brings to us, it might be wrong. This realization tempers us – we should hold off before we start engaging in that massive genocide of the infidels or Jews.

    I only meant to say a bit and now I've rambled on … I think as a matter of practicality I need to understand Heidegger better because he underpins a lot in philosophy that troubles me.

  10. Part 1

    This conversation has helped to clarify some things about my interest in Heidegger's philosophy. I have several books about his philosophy (my favorite is the little one by George Steiner), and it's been several years since I read them. I need to reread them to freshen my overall perspective.

    So...I would say at this point that I find 90% of Heidegger to be incomprehensible and uninteresting. I imagine that the Nazi appropriation of Heidegger has to do with that 90% -- that which dwells on instrumentality, intentionality, and maybe even some of the more ambiguous stuff. I think you are probably correct in your criticism that looks into that 90%.

    So...that leaves 10% that speaks to me. In my (possibly mistaken) view, that 10% is Heidegger trying to come to terms with Being, in a similar manner to Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. The former approached it as the numinous, the latter as the Dionysian. All three approaches seem to echo the ancient thought of India and Tibet. That's where my interest lies -- in the background "thing" that is not a thing or substance or process. Instead, it is what allows "presencing" of any form or kind.

    That little book by Steiner -- "Martin Heidegger" -- does a dandy of of bringing out this aspect of Heidegger's thought. Another cool book is "Forms of Transcendence: Heidegger and Medieval Mystical Theology", by Sonya Sikka, which makes the point that Heidegger's "Being" is actually a God-haunted concept, despite Heidegger's ostensible atheism.

    So...I realize that you are less concerned with truth than with the gradual removing of falsity. But I suspect that Heidegger, in his 10%, was brushing up against something deep and true -- the Abgrund (that through which reality is).

  11. Part 2

    Now...I do realize the basic problem with my interest in that Heideggerian 10%: all that can be coherently said amounts to "Isn't that spooky?" I think the problem with the 90% is that Heidegger tried to take his original insight of wonder and extrapolate something from it about human experience (oddly though, Heidegger was rather unconcerned with ethics). I'm not sure that Being can say much of anything about human experience. It would be like 1 + 1 = duck. Maybe that's why I detect a disjuncture in Heidegger, why I can pass over the 90% so blithely. I think Heidegger should have just tried to remain in the Keatsian condition of negative capability -- "when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason."

    Heidegger did come around to that form of quietude near the end, when he wrote about Hölderlin's poetry and when he wrote about the "gods." I find a homologous aspect with the later Wittgenstein's suggestion that poetry and such belong to the realm of real truth, that poetry and truth are beyond the normal functioning of language. I think that must be why so many great poems have a melancholy sheen or tonality. The deepest aspect of our being dissolves into the intractable problem of Being, which is the great concealment and abyss.

    Make as much or as little of all my blathering as you wish. For me, I'm getting older and more melancholy. So I can't muster the energy for Popper's project of gradually removing falsity. I'm too mesmerized by the spookiness of presence and Being. Maybe I'll keep writing poems laden with some surreal unease.

  12. Okay, I appreciate this detailed response. Rather than rush in with a counter response, I'm going to let this sit with me for a few days ...

  13. Tim,

    I think you raise certain issues that go beyond just this conversation – and it's stuff I'm thinking a lot about these days. I can't write the response I want to right now, but just want to point out a couple things that are peripheral to the main topic.

    > I can't muster the energy for Popper's project of gradually removing falsity.

    This doesn't follow. That's not Popper's program. Again the logic is empty without something to work on … so we need new ideas. New poems in the broad sense. These poems come into conflict and we have to choose among them. Conflict might not be the right word as it suggests competition or sorts … but Popper's program calls for more and more creative effort … not this kind of petty logical grinding.

    But look what else you say here
    >It would be like 1 + 1 = duck.

    Any idea you hold only needs to be held because you choose to accept it. If you accept "all swans are white" it doesn't seem to follow you will also accept "Alf is a swan and black."

    "Alf is a swan and black" is *not* an observation. It's a view informed by ideas. This is where the positivists go wrong.

    There's no sense of authority here, except that which you impose on yourself. No one's trying to touch your subjectivity and tell you what you should believe or not. What you should see or not.

    I have to think about these issues. I think the main issue is whether rationality is in conflict with art. Presuming rationality is something moral, and we can define it that way, then I don't think this is necessary. In fact, the relationship is one of mutual benefit.

    However, most theories of rationality we come across come into direct conflict with art – this has the effect of pushing us toward irrationality. I see Heidegger and Dostoevsky as pushing back against these theories of rationality. Dostoevsky with his religious views, and Heidegger with his views on being.

    I don't think such a reaction is really necessary, but nor do I think rationality should be defined as the end all/be all of everything. I see such a view as very naive and misconstrued.

    Sorry if I'm not responding directly to what you stated. I'd really like to respond more fully, but can't right now ...

  14. Thanks, Matt. I'll ponder this. I'm still trying to get over a sinus infection, and my brain is too stupid today to say anything of possible substance.

  15. I hate those. Hope you are feeling better soon!

  16. Thanks. I'm slowly recovering. With beer and antibiotics. Ha!